Monday, 6 June 2016

Australian Bureau of Statistics intends to hold the personal information of citizens for as long as they live or possibily longer if this has a purpose

First Dog on the Moon, 30 March 2016

On 18 December 2015 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced that in the national census to be held on Wednesday 8 August 2016 it would be retaining personal data of all respondents for the integration of census data with other survey and administrative data.

Rather predictably this assessment concluded that; In relation to the proposed retention of names and addresses from responses to the 2016 Census, a small number of potential risks to personal privacy and public perception have been identified. This Assessment concludes that in each case, the likelihood of the risks eventuating is ‘very low’. It also concludes that the ABS has implemented robust processes to manage data and protect privacy, and that these arrangements effectively mitigate these risks. Any residual risks are such that the ABS is capable of managing.

The risks it is talking about are: (i) ABS staff may inadvertently or maliciously identify an individual; (ii) the database may be hacked; (iii) there may be accidental releases of name and/or address data in ABS outputs or through loss of work related IT equipment and IT documentation; and (iv) in the future, name and address information from responses to the 2016 Census may be used for purposes beyond what is currently contemplated by the ABS – such as the creation of mandatory national identification cards.

The “robust processes” being contemplated are predominately of the closing-the-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted variety.

The ABS also states that; 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 Anny blog observes; The introduction by ABS of Australian Census Longitudinal Dataset (ACLD)…..proves that mass re-tracing and re-linking is quite possible and achievable. Since 2006, Australian census is no longer just a “snapshot of a nation on census night” as ABS keeps telling us, it is a tool capable of continuous, life-long surveillance of every person in Australia. During 2011 census, ABS randomly chose 5% (over a million!) of Australian population and managed to link a staggering 82% of “de-identified” files between 2006 and 2011 censuses within that sample. 

To the best of my knowledge only two other OECD countries retain the personal census data of their citizens, permanent residents and overseas visitors, however a number keep permanent registers of residents’ names and addresses and/or use their nationals surveys for date integration.

The Canberra Times reported this on 20 May 2016:

Former ABS public servant Ross Hamilton says the bureau is no longer the trustworthy institution many Australians believe it is and he is prepared to face the full force of the law rather than participate in the 2016 census.

The Canberra resident says the ABS engaged in a dodgy process to obtain the unprecedented power to retain personal information gathered in the census to be taken in August and its promises that the data will only be held temporarily are worthless.

Since 1961, all names, addresses and other identifying information supplied in census forms have been destroyed once all the other data was saved.

But this year will be different with the ABS claiming its plan to keep the identifying data will enable "a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia".

Privacy activists have already warned of the dangers of retaining information, despite Chief Statistician David Kalisch insisting that names and addresses will be stored securely and separately from other census data. 

Now Mr Hamilton has added his voice to the protests, writing to Mr Kalisch and demanding answers about the bureau's claims that collected data would be over-written in four years.

"If the personal identifier address data-sets are to be over-written or replaced by data-sets from the 2020 census and so on, then to claim the retention of the 2016 data as only temporary is in fact a load of rubbish as it would have become continuing, updated data-sets," Mr Hamilton said. [my red bolding]

There are some common ways of avoiding filling in census forms according to the Australian Privacy Foundation:

o   Being absent from all households on the night of Tue 9 Aug 2011. (Although it may be cold that night)
o   If others in the household are submitting a return, telling them to leave you off it. (This may be a concern to one or more of the other people in the household)
o   Getting an envelope and a form, and sending a blank form in. (This will very likely result in successive re-visits from the collector, followed by threatening letters from the ABS. But if enough people were to do it, the volume might be such that the ABS may not be able to follow everyone up)
o   Getting an envelope and a form, and filling in nonsense data, at least in response to the questions you object to. (This is not appropriate for people who do not like to be forced to lie in order to protect their privacy)
o   If all persons in the household object to providing data, avoiding being at home when the Collector calls. (This will require great persistence, because Collectors and their supervisors are paid to chase, chase, and chase again)
o  Asking a series of questions about the security of the data, and saying that you'll provide the data once you have satisfactory answers. (The ABS is likely to eventually reply with carefully-composed and vague text that does not answer your questions. Ask the questions again. You may need to sustain your patience over many months until one side or the other gives up)
o   Refusing to provide the data. (The ABS has the power to prosecute, and to seek fines that the magistrate could choose to apply once, or for every day that the data is not provided)

The APF neither encourages nor discourages any of these approaches. (And it would be unwise for anyone to actively encourage their use, because that might be interpreted as an incitement to break the law).

But the APF believes that the information should be widely published, so that people are informed about the situation.

Also according to the Australian Privacy Foundation; In 2001, non-contact-dwellings were 156,460 (2.0%) [missing 1-3 people each = 300,000]…..

The ABS told Queensland Pride that 4,955 formal notices were sent to people directing them to fill out their census this year [2006]. Of these, approximately 4,000 completed forms were returned. Of those that weren’t, 278 people were later prosecuted. [No information was provided about the outcomes.] Penalty for failing to fill out the census form range from Good Behaviour Bonds to fines of up $500 plus court costs.

An ABS spokesperson said: “A person cannot simply pay the fine at the time of receiving the notice and not complete the form as the fine relates to an offence and, as the offence is a criminal one, it must be proved in a court of law.” (Qld Pride, 2 Nov 2007)

The legislated response to non-compliance is set out in the C’wealth Census and Statistics Act 1905 which states:

             (1)  A person commits an offence if:
                     (a)  the person is served a direction under subsection 10(4) or 11(2); and
                     (b)  the person fails to comply with the direction.
Penalty:  One penalty unit.

             (2)  Subsection (1) is an offence of strict liability.
Note 1:   For strict liability, see section 6.1 of the Criminal Code.
Note 2:   A person commits an offence in respect of each day until the person complies with the direction (see section 4K of the Crimes Act 1914).

             (3)  Subsection (1) does not apply in relation to a person’s failure to answer a question, or to supply particulars, relating to the person’s religious beliefs.
Note:     A defendant bears an evidential burden in relation to the matter in subsection (3) (see subsection 13.3(3) of the Criminal Code).

15  False or misleading statements or information

                   A person commits an offence if:
                     (a)  the person:
                              (i)  is required, requested or directed to fill up and supply particulars under subsection 10(2), (3) or (4); or
                             (ii)  is requested or directed to answer a question under subsection 11(1) or (2); and
                     (b)  the person makes a statement, either orally or in writing, or provides a document containing information, in connection with the requirement, request or direction; and
                     (c)  the person knows that the statement or information is false or misleading in a material particular.
Penalty:  10 penalty units.


Bob from South Australia said...

It is a criminal offense to fail to answer even one question in the Census untruthfully and yet our politicians can tell endless lies about extremely important matters with no penalty.

Using the Minchin Protocol, our politicians can rob us, and when they get caught they just repay the money.

Being convicted of a criminal offense is a very serious matter that can stop you traveling to many countries and stop you getting employment or even volunteering.
It will even affect your insurance policies as insurance companies can refuse to pay if you haven’t informed them you have a criminal conviction.

The ABS has said that the decision to pair our data and identity “followed an extensive public consultation process” There is a lie right there.

This data will be misused. ABS data already is misused.
In March last year the ABC ran this item: “Former NAB banker Lukas Kamay and former Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) analyst Christopher Hill have been sentenced to jail over a $7 million insider trading scheme….Between August 2013 and May 2014, Hill took handwritten notes from unpublished labour force, new capital expenditure, retail trade and building approvals data and sent the information to Kamay via his mobile phone. Kamay used the sensitive information to trade in foreign exchange derivatives via two trading accounts, the court was told…. Justice Hollingworth said Hill was guilty of very serious offences. For eight months, he had deliberately accessed highly confidential economic information and provided it to Kamay in clear breach of his employment obligations. The judge said his sole motivation was financial gain.”

There is a history of data breaches in this country – just open any newspaper and you will find examples.
SA Health staff sacked, disciplined as 21 caught spying on patient records
I'm corrupt, ex-cop Debra Lee Buckskin admits in SA District court

NCV Admin said...


I wish to add a comment but I am not an experienced blogger. So may I ask you to put this contribution on North Coast Voices. Many thanks in advance.

Just for information I was born in South Grafton and was raised on a small farm in Cowper in view of the Clarence River, but that was long ago.

Recently, I had an article on this matter published by the Australian Privacy Foundation,, which you might find interesting. (The link in the "Highlights” which is in the central column)

From my point of view the most important conclusion I reach is that the ABS doesn’t have the legal authority to collect ‘name’ on a compulsory basis. I came to this view, using some specific comments the Parliamentary Counsel made at the time the Census and Statistics Act was being extensively rewritten to take account of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission’s Report on ‘Privacy and the Census’.

However, ’'name’ can be collected on a voluntary basis as it has been done in previous Censuses.

This one change might just save the value of the 2016 Census being destroyed by civil disobedience.

If you are interested in knowing about my background you might look at

Bill McLennan
ACT 2611