Jes’ give the dang guvmint all mah pers’nal secrits…

Yeah, I did.

I just put MY REAL NAME on my census form, and guess what? I couldn’t care less.

Screenshot - 9_08_2016 , 8_05_46 AM There has been quite a fuss over the privacy issues here. Here’s how the Bureau of Statistics puts it:

Are similar practices undertaken in other countries?

Canada and New Zealand retain the names and addresses from every Census in order to enhance the value and use of the information collected in the Census, by combining Census data with other national datasets. It is common and accepted practice in many other countries, for trusted National Statistical Offices to unleash the power of statistics using data integration.

What measures will the ABS use to safeguard the privacy of names and addresses from the Census?

Key measures to safeguard information include strong encryption of data, restricted access on a need-to-know basis and monitoring of all staff, including regular audits. After data collection and processing, the ABS removes names and addresses from other personal and household information. Names and addresses will be stored securely and separately from one another. No one working with Census data will be able to view your personal information (name or address) at the same time as your other Census responses (such as age, sex, occupation, level of education or income). Stored separately and securely, individuals’ names will also be substituted with a linkage key (a computer generated code) completely anonymising the personal information. Only these anonymous linkage keys will be used by the ABS to bring data sets together. For more information see: Census Privacy, confidentiality and security.

The full explanation is even more long-winded than that and no doubt quite opaque in its current form to lots of our fellow citizens.

Here is cartoonist Cathy Wilcox’s take:

CpSaIfLUkAApdRz.jpg large

Concerns for privacy have ranged from the reasonable and measured to the full-on tinfoil hat wearing. On balance I decided I could support neither those who called a boycott on the census or even those deliberately putting a false name or no name. However, having names optional may well be worth considering in future censuses. People were annoyed particularly by  this new feature of the 2016 census:

For the 2016 Census, the ABS will destroy names and addresses when there is no longer any community benefit to their retention or four years after collection (i.e. August 2020), whichever is earliest.

The Bureau justifies it thus:

The benefits of retaining names and address in the Census are significant. Names and addresses will be used by the ABS to generate anonymous keys that can be used to combine existing data sets to create richer and more valuable statistics for Australia.

The new data sets, containing no names and addresses, will improve the lives of Australians by:

  • better informing decisions, policies and services in important areas like health, education, infrastructure and the economy
  • enabling greater use of existing data and reducing the burden on individuals to provide data that is already available
  • providing additional insights and more confidence in decisions, particularly for the most vulnerable and challenging policy areas.

The use of anonymised names during the linkage process will ensure that Australians can have confidence in the quality of the data that is being used to support decisions. If governments and decisions makers are to make smart choices affecting all our lives, they need the best possible statistics.

Consistent with public commitments, the ABS has destroyed all names and addresses collected in the 2011, 2006 and all previous Censuses. These were destroyed at the end of the processing and evaluation period – approximately eighteen months after the conduct of the Census.

More information about the benefits of Data Integration is available on the Data Integration Frequently Asked Questions page.

And I do buy all that,

However, the government – bearing in mind that for a period we didn’t really have one this year – has done a rather poor job of informing the public in easily understood ways. Also, I can’t help feeling that heavily relying on online completion and making it quite hard to get the paper forms will contribute to this census being far less reliable than it should be. I do regard census information highly. It is important that we get good data from the exercise.

I do wonder too how many will carry out the threat of a boycott. Enough really to ruin the exercise? I do hope not.

Also I am not encouraged when I find, as I did yesterday, that there are people even here in Wollongong who simply HAVE NOT RECEIVED the magic census letters we were all supposed to receive in the past few weeks.


Today there arrived cards with a phone contact number targeting those who had not received the magic letter. A tad late though…

The person who most persuaded me in the past few weeks NOT to join the #censusfail push was the admirable Andrew Leigh, the underpaid shadow assistant treasurer.

Labor has called on Australians not to spoil the census, slapping down a growing revolt led by minor parties to withhold names when filling it out.

But the shadow assistant treasurer, Andrew Leigh, criticised the federal government for failing to explain changes to hold name and address information for four years…

Leigh told ABC’s AM: “Labor’s view is everybody should fill in the census.”

He said the minor party push and the government’s failure to sell its changes “imperils the quality of census data”.

Asked about the minor party push to withhold names, Leigh said: “I won’t be following that mode. I would encourage Australians not to spoil the census because when you do so you deny your community and neighbours the resources they’re entitled.”…


Next day

Oh dear!

CpaTy__UIAAYXFU About last night: Census 2016: ABS says deliberate attacks were to blame for website crashing.

The chief statistician says the census website was shut down to ‘protect the integrity of the data’ from denial of service attacks coming from overseas….

David Kalisch, the ABS chief statistician, told ABC news radio the site was subject to a sequence of denial of service attacks emanating from overseas. He says the ABS shut down the site to “protect the integrity of the data”, rather than the site crashing.

“From the scale of the attack it is clear it is malicious,” he said. “The data is secure and we expect to be in a situation soon to inform the public when the site will be ready again.

“I can certainly reassure Australians the data they provided is safe,” he said….


One thought on “Jes’ give the dang guvmint all mah pers’nal secrits…

  1. Pingback: Kyle Chalmers, hacking speculation, and that Census again | Neil's Commonplace Book

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