Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Australians continue to be uneasy concerning the Australian Bureau of Statistics increased intrusion into the private lives of the population

Australians continue to be uneasy concerning motives of the Australian Bureau of Statistics ahead of expanded data collection and retention from August 2016 Census information.

ABC News, 22 July 2016:

Privacy advocates are calling on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) not to collect names of individuals in next month's census, due to privacy concerns.

For the first time, the ABS will keep Australians' names and addresses on file for four years instead of 18 months.

Meanwhile, it has emerged the ABS has been using people's names and addresses to cross-reference data with records kept by other Australian departments since 2006.
Before this, they were largely used for administrative purposes, to ensure everyone completed the census.

The revelations have prompted concern on talkback radio and social media, with some people declaring they will boycott the census because of the changes.

The Australian Privacy Foundation is calling on the ABS to stop using people's names for data analysis.

"We all gave our names in good faith, thinking they'd be deleted," said the foundation's vice-chair Kat Lane.

"We've now since found out they're not being deleted at all, they're being stored and made into unique identifiers.

"We don't want the ABS to have very sensitive personal details like names. We want them to be deleted."….

The head of The Statistical Society of Australia, Dr John Henstridge, said he did not believe the ABS did enough to consult with the community.

"I think it probably needed more of a publicity campaign about this and being a bit more open," he said.

"If people don't want to cooperate with the census because they are concerned about how the data might be used then that is a real concern."
The 2016 census will be held on August 9.

Given it was only last year that an ABS employee was gaoled for three years and three months for unlawful use of statistical data after pleading guilty to four charges of abuse of public office, one charge of insider trading, and one charge of identity theft, I strongly suspect that everyone has a right to feel concerned.

Especially as the independent Review of ABS Sensitive Information Controls conducted once the fraud was discovered revealed an organisation which had grown rather sloppy about employee access and compliance.

Now that all names and addresses will be kept effectively in perpetuity by the Bureau, one can expect that the number of times staff are approached to unlawfully supply information (or seek unauthorised information on their own behalf) will rise.

Centrelink records highlight how staff with access to sensitive information are tempted to breach regulations and even break the law – for example in 2006 it was reported that  there had been 580 breaches in 2005-06, in 2011-12 there were 126 formal investigations for substantiated privacy breaches, in 2013 another 68 breaches were revealed and in 2014 sensitive information was removed from the agency and left on a railway station platform.

Misuse of information and communications technology is endemic across the public sector and the Australian Bureau of Statistics now appears intent on exacerbating this problem.

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