Australian Bureau of Statistics and privacy issues

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

The key difference between a surveillance dossier and statistics is that statistics do not need to know your name and address.

ABS Census

The change

Initially, census was a 19th century solution for figuring out how many people were out there, when the government had no databases that could provide such information. Today it is no longer the case: the government have multiple systems with all the necessary data for planning and decision-making. What they do not have, yet, is a comprehensive profile on each person that combines the data from all departments, organisations and institutions.

A century ago, census was the only way to more or less accurately count the population and estimate what is services are needed in each region, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) was given the task. Today, all that data is available from Medicare, electoral roll, transport, immigration and education departments, and so on. This data may be fragmented and missing some individuals, but it should be sufficient for general statistics and planning. One can only guess the thoughts that passed through the heads of ABS bosses, but the recent line of events gives a pretty good indication that in order to keep their jobs, they saw the need to cross the line and move from collecting anonymous statistics towards compiling a detailed dossier on each Australian.

The usual spiel is that the authorities need this data to provide us with hospitals, schools and roads. But they already know exactly how many children are in each and every school, patients in every hospital, passengers in every unit of public transport; and the traffic counters are a much cheaper and more precise way to get the road usage figures. No census is needed for any of that. So,...

What is really behind the census?

Australian Census is run every 5 years and is presented as mandatory for every person who was in Australia on census night. The Australian Bureau of Statistics brandishes the Census and Statistics Act 1905 that allegedly gives it power, including power of compulsion, to wring the data out of anyone who is unwilling to “cooperate”. To ensure “willing” and therefore cheaper and faster cooperation, the ABS promises that once census processing is completed, all data is de-identified, and only then disclosed to other government agencies or sold to third parties via online tools like TableBuilder. However, over the recent decades, the ABS has been relentlessly expanding the array of data it collects, the length of time it keeps the data, and the purposes it uses this data for. What happens to census data now has very little in common to what was happening in 1905 when the ABS was given its powers.

The ABS has now admitted that it is bringing together census data with the ABS and non-ABS datasets using name and address during census processing to undertake quality studies, ... statistical outputs and research purposes. And even with the names eventually “anonymised”, it is known that the ABS linked census data to Personal Income Tax database from Australian Tax Office (ATO), Migrant database from Department of Home Affairs, and Medicare database from Department of Human Services using the “anonymised” name, sex, residential address and date of birth of every person.

Unfortunately, many are not aware of the difference between anonymisation and de-identification of data:

What the ABS calls “anonymisation” is in fact de-identification.

The Census and Statistics (Information Release and Access) Determination 2018 made under the Census and Statistics Act enables the Australian Statistician to provide access to unidentified individual statistical records (microdata). This enables wider access to ABS data for social and economic research and analysis. In doing so, the Australian Statistician must ensure that all identifying information is removed prior to release and that the information is released in a manner that is not likely to enable the identification of an individual., How The ABS Keeps Your Information Confidential

Destroying trust and privacy one step at a time

Until 2006 census, the ABS was removing people's names and addresses once census collection was completed. In those circumstances, very few people had issues with being an anonymous piece of aggregated information, i.e. statistics it its true sense. Once the personal information was irreversible destroyed, people knew they had a guarantee that their data could not be misused in the future. The census was actually what census was supposed to be: a one-night snapshot of anonymous population.

In 2011 census, the ABS decided to turn the “snapshot” into a long movie and encoded addresses into so-called mesh blocks, allowing for every person to be easily traced back with high probability even without the explicit presence of their name and address, as all other information was still kept on file: gender, date of birth, country of birth, ethnicity, marital status, number and age of children, who they live with, their profession, workplace address, school or university addresses, income, and so on. Australian census was no longer just a snapshot of a nation on a census night, as the ABS kept telling us, it became a tool capable of continuous, life-long surveillance of every person in Australia. During the 2011 census, the ABS randomly chose 5% (over a million) of Australian population and managed to link a staggering 82% of “de-identified” files between the 2006 and 2011 censuses within that sample. Those people were to be linked again in the census 2016 and possibly followed for life, without their knowledge or consent. The ABS said the sample will also be augmented in the future. And sure enough, augmented it was!

For 2016 census, the ABS surreptitiously announced on its website that the ABS collects name and address information in order to... enable the linkage of census data with other datasets to increase the value of the census. This meant that personal information not only was retained, but also that the ABS got access to other personal data repositories that have nothing to do with census.

The real danger is the gradual erosion of individual liberties through automation, integration, and interconnection of many small, separate record-keeping systems, each of which alone may seem innocuous, even benevolent, and wholly justifiable.

U. S. Privacy Study Commission

On 18 December 2015, just before Christmas, when everyone was busy with other things and least likely to keep an eye on the bureaucratic news, the ABS published the following announcement on its website:

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has decided to retain names and addresses collected in the 2016 Census of Population and Housing in order to enable a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia through the combination of Census data with other survey and administrative data.
Whilst the Census has always been valuable in its own right, when used in combination with other data the Census can provide even greater insight.
... The combination of Census data and health data can help improve Australia's understanding and support of people who require mental health services and assist with the design of better programs of support and prevention.
This decision has been informed by public submissions, public testing and the conduct of a Privacy Impact Assessment.

Informed by public submissions? Public testing? You are the public. Have you been duly notified of this significant change? Did you get to test it and agree with it? Have you been given a fair chance to lodge a submission? You can make your conclusions about the worth of the ABS's word, and how much your opinion really matters to the ABS.

Getting informed by public submissions ABS-style was done as follows: on 11 Novembers 2015 the ABS published a media release on their site saying that it is considering the retention of names and addresses as a key enabler for improved household surveys and high quality statistics, and gave the public until 2 December to respond. Those who managed to discover this release and respond in time were most likely the people who work in the industry, make a living out of the ABS data, and naturally knew where and when to look. It is not hard to guess that such people or organisations have high interest in approving data harvesting and privacy violation as far as it can possibly go.

Whenever there are concerns about, or opposition to a new method of intrusion of individual privacy, we hear the same response: the decision to do so followed an extensive public consultation process. How many people find it easy to obtain information about a public consultation taking place? Or, more importantly, how many get to see the contents of all the submissions to a certain public consultation? It cannot be called an “extensive public consultation” if very few know about it, and the opinions of those who disagree can be quietly disregarded. Unless these consultations are widely advertised and the contents of all submissions are made public, the statements about extensive public consultation process are a fallacy.

Moving towards 2021 census, the ABS became bold about transforming the census from an anonymous snapshot into an ongoing and far-reaching data-matching operation. They now openly state that they will keep all personal data and will locate and link records pertaining to the same individual from multiple data sources: Australian Taxation Office, Department of Education, Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Social Services, etc. This means your health record, pharmaceutical prescription data, tax file, Centrelink file, children's school record and other information can be accessed, combined, analysed, stored, added to from other sources, shared and used without giving you any say in the matter. It has been revealed that ABS plans to use utility bill data, government administration records and “observations” by their staff for identifying the buildings in which occupants may be avoiding census data collection. If the ABS allege that the public is so overwhelmingly welcoming of the changes the ABS made to census, why do they need these new reconnaissance tactics?

The ABS calls this being completely transparent around the collection, protection and use of data, but what is the value of this so-called transparency if nobody has any legal means of opting out?

Changing things one step at a time has been found to be a very effective tactic in practice. What is the problem? This is hardly anything different from what it was before... you are just paranoid... this is not Big Brother, or the Stasi... It is a very hard tactic to counter.

David Vaile, vice-chairman of the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) and executive director of the Cyberspace Law and Policy Community

Risking hacker attacks and data misuse

To mitigate the public outrage, the ABS keeps insisting that it has been enjoying a good history of personal data protection. But that is irrelevant. Prior 2006, the ABS did not keep any personal data, so of course it could not be misused or stolen. Now it is no longer the case. A 100% security of identity can only be guaranteed if no identifying information is kept in any form — encoded or not.

The ABS also tried to calm the public by promising that they will remove names and addresses from other personal and household information, store them securely and separately from other census information, that they will never be recombined, and that the ABS never has and never will release identifiable census data. If these promises were true, if names and addresses will really never be recombined, released or used for any other purpose, why keep them? Make your guess.

Hackers do exist, and so does the possibility that the government can change the legislation or amend any policy at any point in the future. The new law may allow the data to be treated less securely or released without de-identification. There is no law against changing the law! There is no law that could permanently protect the privacy of individuals who were forced to hand their personal information over to the ABS. No one can guarantee that at some point in the future the ABS will not be told to release all the confidential data it holds, or to track people down under some vague pretext like “national security”. And with the new trend of keeping data forever, it will not only affect the data collected at the time, but will also jeopardise the security of decades of linked data from the past.

The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what the government do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.

Glenn Greenwald

If the ABS was truly anonymising our information instead of keeping it behind some semi–de-identification in a separate file, there would be no such danger: one cannot release the data they don't have, no matter what the new law or the government say. Unfortunately, the ABS is doing the opposite: instead of future-proofing the security of our private and sensitive information, they routinely propose to retain more identifiable data and to merge census data with information from birth and death registers, immigration data, disease registers, health records, tax files, and their own surveys.

As the Australian Privacy Foundation said in its Submission to Australian Bureau of Statistics in February 2016, an anonymous, specific-purpose, temporary and relatively safe one-off snapshot appears to have been changed into a less-safe, personally identified, lifetime longitudinal dossier, with potentially fewer protections.

Your name, date of birth and address have no statistical importance, and therefore the ABS should not be even collecting these details in the first place, if statistics is what they are really doing. This is vital identity data, and can only be used for identifying each particular person, acquiring more information about that person from other sources, and placing the person under surveillance, often without the person's knowledge, consent, or any option to stop this intrusion into their private life. If the ABS was truly interested in statistics only, they would allow people to remain anonymous. An age bracket and a suburb or postcode should be perfectly sufficient for any census or survey. Once they demand names and addresses, it's not statistics anymore. It is the Australian Bureau of Surveillance.

10 August 2016 update: the census has been affected by a hacker attack, despite ABS's assurances that they were well-prepared and everything was secured.

1 March 2019 update: researchers reported a major flaw in census security that existed at least since 2017 and can let attackers to re-construct and reveal large parts of the census dataset.

Disregarding public concerns

Technically, all the changes — or, as the ABS like to refer to them, “enhancements” — have to pass a thorough the process of public consultation. However, despite a large number of opposing submissions from the organisations such as Australian Privacy Foundation, Victoria Privacy Commissioner (+ Supplemental Comments), the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, and the response from the NSWCCL urging ABS to abandon the privacy-violating intentions, each subsequent ABS census implements increasingly intrusive features.

As far back as 2005, Australian Privacy Foundation voiced their concerns about ABS's grossly intrusive initiative to link census data and pointed out the following:

The data collected in each Census would now be retained, rather than being destroyed once analysis has been completed. This breaches the public expectation that the detailed data only has a short life and that all that is retained is statistics.

The data collected in successive Censuses would now be linked. This breaches the public expectation that the Census is a statistical snapshot.

The data would be very rich, and the individuals it refers to would be readily identifiable, and hence will continue to be greatly attractive to many agencies and corporations. This breaches the vital public expectation that Census data is anonymous.

It will be used in conjunction with further data from government sources such as birth, death and disease registers, and immigration data. This further breaches public expectations about privacy protections for their data.

It may be used in conjunction with data from yet more sources. This would further breach public expectations about privacy protections for their data.

Although some kinds of change to the scheme would require legislation, a great many potential “enhancements” to the scheme could be implemented as and when the Australian Statistician of the day sees fit.

The ABS is trying to maintain the fiction that because names and addresses will not be used, it will be impossible to identify who is included in the [collection]. With such a rich data-set, this is, quite simply, untrue; and the fact that the ABS can utter such a statement gives rise to concerns about the agency's trustworthiness.

In bringing this Proposal forward, the ABS is seriously undermining its hitherto strong reputation. The ABS is also doing great harm to the Census, because the Proposal will significantly reduce people's readiness to complete Census forms, and to do so accurately.

Australian Privacy Foundation, Census 2006 campaign

The APF were right in 2006, and their concerns are even more relevant right now. Even the person who used to be the head the ABS, now retired, is highly critical of their current trajectory:

This, without doubt, is the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS. What is motivating me is that as an Australian citizen I am appalled that the ABS can think it can use the threat of prosecution to make me provide data that allows the ABS to set up, what is in effect, a ‘Statistical Australian Card’.

A letter by Bill McLennan, head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics 1995–2000

The ABS undermine the vital trust of the public in the government. Without this trust, no free democratic society can function. This trust is very fragile, and, once damaged, can take a lifetime to restore, submerging the country in chaos and corruption.

The ABS seem to be disregarding the fact that whenever a rich source of data exists, there will always be agencies seeking access to it. And some of those agencies are very powerful. The ABS also seem to be ignoring the fact that until now they have been able to collect the information and develop a reliable set of statistics only because the public had confidence in it. The introduced changes that impact privacy will inevitably erode public confidence and decrease reliability of the collected data. The ABS already had to resort to compulsion and coercion to force the participation of some individuals who were avoiding census and surveys because of fears for their privacy and security. What is next?

Using dubious pretexts

The ABS says the compulsion is necessary for creating a population sample that provides a balanced and unbiased representation of all population of Australia. Yet the very same ABS was using census and survey forms with carefully arranged and worded questions to get certain answers.

For example, the question about religion What is the person's religion? actually presumes that the person has a religion and induces to select from the list a religion the person was taught at school or grew up with even if they no longer actively practise it. The “no religion” answer option was buried at the end of a long list of common religious affiliations. The result of such careful design is that Australian taxpayers are not only over-subsidising religious institutions, but it also exaggerates religiousness of Australians and allows religions to influence political decisions in such secular areas as public health, which, for example, makes Australia to remain one of very few developed countries where abortion is still the subject of criminal law! If the ABS was truly seeking an unbiased representation of Australian population, the question would have been Do you practice any religion? and the “no religion” option would have been first, above the list of most popular faiths. The truly devoted, religious people would have had no trouble skipping the atheistic answer, while people who are no longer seriously religious would not have been confused. Thus, the ABS's claim that the lack of bias is so important that it justifies the coercion doesn't hold up.

Post-census 2016 update: after years of criticism and public campaigns, the ABS has finally moved the “no religion” option to the top of the list in the 2016 census, and immediately, for the first time in the history of census, the “no religion” answer outnumbered the believers in every religion. This proves the point: the ABS appear to be very concerned with bias when people are defending their privacy, but had no problems with the bias of its own creation.

ABS Surveys

In addition to the 5-yearly census of every person in the country, the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducts a number of surveys that require more information from individuals, and that the bureau claims are, again, compulsory: Monthly Population Surveys (MPS), Australian Health Survey, Income and Housing Survey, and many others. The ABS select the “victim” households, dispatches a letter addressed “to the householder”, and from that point the tenants of the dwelling have little choice but to let their private life become government property or be prosecuted.

These surveys can be lengthy, spanning several months, inconvenient and extremely privacy-invading. People have no right to say ‘no’ to protect their own personal data and their family from potential risks of misuse, identity theft, leaks or hacker attacks. There is no choice and no exit — all because the ABS enjoy the power given to it by the antiquated Census and Statistics Act 1905 to issue Notices of Direction, to force people to supply the information and threaten them with exorbitant fines, courts and jail sentences.

The ABS claim that the surveys must be compulsory for each “chosen” household in order to provide a balanced representation of all households in Australia so that the estimates made from the data reflect, as closely as possible, all households. If some households do not participate, this may result in one type of household being represented more often than another type, which may result in biases in the data. But, as described above, the ABS not only don't mind bias, they can deliberately introduce it when the agenda requires.

The ABS also like to stress that they rely on willing cooperation of the selected householders. Though it is unknown how willing any consent can be if people have no choice, and threats are used. It is also unknown how many people are willing to give honest answers when they are being coerced. Voluntary participation can bias the results of surveys, but wouldn't coercion and intimidation make it even worse? Most people can give honest answers only when they can be sure that their identity is absolutely and irreversibly safe, which is longer the case when the ABS is involved.

What You Can Do to Defend Your Privacy

According to the readers, the only sure and legal way to avoid the ABS is to be overseas during the census, or move house after receiving the survey letter. Obviously, for many these are not easily available options. The Public Information Statement re ABS Compulsory Surveys page from APF has some helpful information.

So far, there has been only one widely known case when a person won a court case against ABS's intrusion: Shirley Stott Despoja in 1988, mother of former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja. Although while there is no much chance to fight the insatiable statisticians in court, you can still try to protect your privacy and identity as much as possible. Here are reader suggestions:

Insist on not giving your name and date of birth to the ABS

Your name and date of birth have no statistical importance, so the ABS should not be collecting it. The only purpose of collecting this data is to identify and trace people beyond the scope of census or survey. But that's not statistics, that is surveillance. If the ABS know your address, simply giving them your date of birth (even without your name), means they can easily identify you.

This is why it is worth asking the ABS for clear, better written, explanations why they are trying to get this data from you and how exactly they are going to use it. Ask for guarantees that the ABS won't use your address, date of birth, age, place of birth or any other personal data for snooping in government files, or linking your survey responses to other databases. Demand clear answers what exactly the information like your date of birth will be used for and why simply an age range can't satisfy the “statistics”. Most likely, your date of birth will be used by the ABS to pull more information about you from other data sources like Taxation Office, Medicare and health records. If you are not happy with that, voice your objection and lodge a complaint with the ABS and contact privacy advocate groups for advice. The more people do it, the more chance Australians have of winning their privacy back.

Household Survey Participant FAQs on ABS website clearly say:

Do I have to give my name?
No. The interviewer will ask for your name to assist with the interview, but if you wish, the interview can be conducted anonymously.

Household Survey Participant Information FAQs,

And so it should be: statistics don't need names! If the ABS was truly collecting the information for statistical purposes only, as they claim, they shouldn't need any personally identifiable information at all, ever. However, remember that the surveyors know your address, and they often ask for your date of birth or age. Given that ABS has now got access to other government databases, tracing a person by the address and date of birth is a matter of seconds. It could be that this anonymity is false and deceptive if the people are traced and identified afterwards.

For Post Enumeration Survey (PES) that is run after each census, the ABS demands the person's name, sex, date of birth, age, relationship in household, marital status, country of birth and indigenous status, allegedly to match the PES records to the census records during processing. Ask what is going to happen to your personal information and insist on a written guarantee that after this matching all your identifying information will not be retained by the ABS in any form. The ABS does not clearly state what happens to the identifying information collected during PES and other surveys.

Don't give ABS your phone number

The ABS often asks for a phone number. If they want you to complete a survey online, they will tell you to create an account, which demands a mobile phone number as compulsory. In Australia, phone numbers are tied to your ID and can be used to identify and trace you. Refuse to do the survey online if they keep demanding your phone number.

It may also be wise not to use your usual personal email adders for dealing with the ABS. Instead, create a disposable email just for that. Use a free, privacy-driven email service that does not recycle email aliases, i.e. does not give the same email address to another person after you deleted yours (e.g. Protonmail or Tutanota). As it doesn't appear possible to delete the ABS survey account, the only way to extricate yourself from it could be closing your email address account once you are done with the survey.

Ask for a proof that your household was chosen absolutely randomly, and was not targeted with any intention

The ABS claims that they choose their survey participants totally randomly, however there have been numerous complaints from people saying that after they agreed to participate in one survey, they have been told to fill another one, and another one... Apparently, many people prefer to discard the “To the Householder” letter from the ABS, don't make any contact, and don't open their door to any door-knockers; so to keep the plan fulfilled, boxes ticked and salaries coming, some suspect that the ABS take advantage of the softer targets. Therefore, it may be wise to demand written guarantees that the selection is indeed random, and if you are soon “randomly” chosen for another survey, take the matter further and lodge a complaint.

Demand written guarantees the ABS will never attach any identifying information to your answers, attempt to identify you, link your answers to any other data about you, or attempt to trace you later in life

If the ABS truly collects data for statistics only, giving you such guarantees should not be a problem for them. However, if they refuse, make your conclusions and take actions.

Be aware of the ABS promises to keep your information “confidential”, or to “delete” or “remove” your name and address once statistical processing is completed

Most people think that their identifying information is going to be destroyed, but it is actually kept: the ABS simply moves names and addresses to a different file, which allows them to say that they “removed” the identifiable data. From website, it is clear that identifiable information is not destroyed, it is stored in a separate file that can be easily linked back to the rest of the person's information:

Data records are de-identified as soon as possible. Once quality has been assured, names and addresses are removed, because this information is not needed for the production of statistics. Removal provides added protection against any breach of security of confidential information.

Internally generated identifiers are usually attached to each record, but cannot be used to identify a respondent. Nevertheless, the combination of these identifiers and the name and address to which they refer can be used to make records identifiable. Hence any linked files are carefully protected and only available on a strict need to use for work basis.

So, if we are told that personal privacy is paramount at the ABS, that personal information is not needed for the production of statistics, that the ABS collects information only for statistical purposes, and that the ABS has never and will never release identifiable personal information to any outside organisation, agency or project, then why is the personal information kept at all? Why not destroy it once and forever, and by doing so actually guarantee its safety? Why retain it? Why wait for a breach, a hacker attack or a new law that will permit a new usage of this information? The ABS doesn't give any answer to these questions.

The ABS keeps saying that they haven't had a privacy breach before. That's great, but it doesn't mean it can't happen in the future. Hacking technologies are getting more sophisticated. And the public should keep in mind that before 2006 there was no linking between census data and other ABS surveys and government databases, and people weren't traced and followed through their lives. A breach before 2006 would only leak data from one census or survey. A breach now will compromise the privacy of the whole life or individuals and their whole families.

Do a thorough legitimacy check

If you open your door to someone claiming to be an ABS data collector, make sure the person is really working for the ABS. A plastic card dangling on someone's neck is not a magic pass into everyone's personal life. How can we know their ID card is legit? Would that card be accepted as an ID by Driver Licensing Authorities, Centrelink, Police, Border Security or any bank? No? Then why should the public accept it? Take a photo of the collector's ID and tell them to come later. In the meantime, call the ABS office using their official phone number (not the number the surveyor may give you) and confirm the identity of the door-knocker. We all know that these days anyone can print out any sort of cards and start knocking people's doors, and the ABS created a perfect opportunity for criminals gaining access to people's homes and personal information by masquerading as ABS collectors, as numerous ABS-related scam incidents show.

Check the list of the current ABS surveys on website, do a research about the survey you were “chosen” for and learn what you can say and do to maximise the protection of your sensitive information. The ABS subcontracts all sorts of companies and individuals to do surveys for them, so you never know whose hands your private or sensitive information is passed through. Keep that photo of the ID card you have taken, and if any identity theft, fraud or house break-in happens in your family, pass the facts about the recent ABS survey and the ID of the surveyor to the police.

And, by law, you are not obliged to let ABS employees into your house.

Record everything for yourself while objecting the ABS's recording

Tell the ABS data collector that you will be filming/recording the interview, and keep the copy of all questions and answers. At the same time refuse for the ABS to make any audio or video recordings of you. It is your home and your private life — you set the rules. These days, the ABS surveyors use laptops to record your answers, so you can insist on watching what they are entering and take a photo of each screen, for your protection and for making sure the answers are entered correctly. Remember, the ABS may have the power to force you to give the answers, but you still have the rights to access the information collected and held about you and make sure it is correct. As these people are merely doing their job and were most likely led to believe that they are working for something good, always stay polite, but also firm and vigilant.

Complain and protest

Voice your concerns, disapproval or objections regarding privacy issues. Write to the ABS, to your local member of parliament, to the relevant minister of the day, and to the Privacy Commissioner. Make your concerns public on online discussion boards and social media. The more people are aware and discuss the issue, the higher the chance of positive changes. Ignore any silly comments from people mentioning paranoia or tin foil hats, or those uttering the hackneyed if you've got nothing to hide — those people are either ignorant or have vested interests in the current privacy erosion trend. You have valid concerns and every right to be worried about the privacy and security of your personal data. If someone else wants to forfeit their right to privacy, it is their choice. You have yours.

Australian Privacy Foundation published the “What Concerned People Are Doing” lists about census and about surveys. While the Census and Statistics Act 1905 provides for the compulsory provision of census and survey forms and of accurate data, those provisions are unlikely to be sufficient to ensure an effective census or survey in the face of widespread public opposition. The ex-head of the ABS, Bill McLennan, also wrote a detailed article concluding that the ABS can't collect names in the census on a compulsory basis.

The most sacred thing is to be able to shut your own door.

G. K. Chesterton

Further reading:

Public advisory statement re ABS compulsory surveys, Australian Privacy Foundation

Commencing with the 2006 Census, the ABS is now keeping personal data, which can be associated with the person's identity without their consent, Australian Privacy Foundation

Why you might want to become a Jedi Knight for this year's Census, Salinger Privacy

If you're worried about privacy, you should worry about the 2016 census, ABC News

Census Nightmares: The more we know, the less we trust it?, Meg Carter, Institute for Social Research

The census cannot force you to give your name, Crikey

The Problems with the 2016 Census, Australian Privacy Foundation

Census 2016, Electronic Frontiers Australia

Write a Comment

This is a very scary trend. Why doesn't this set alarm bell ringing? Are we too stupid or too lazy to see where this is leading?

Anonymous, 27 July 2011

Mark my words: all this smoke and mirrors with longitudinal datasets and mesh blocks is a prep for a massive upcoming invasion of privacy. Just wait and watch the ABS do a 180 degree turn, end de-identification and start cross-linking the census with various external personal data on each citizen.

Craig T., 2 August 2011

As long as the average member of sleepwalking public keeps repeating 'if you have nothing to hide' and do nothing about the problem, we will keep sliding into this Orwellian hole. I wrote to my MP. And I will write to the responsible minister once I find out who that is. Everybody else who at least remotely concerned about their rights, independence and basic freedoms should do some writing too.

Anonymous, 5 August 2011

The ABS likes to use the words "compulsory" and "mandatory" when talking about the collection of names. However, it isn't so. These words aren't even mentioned in the Census and Statistics Act. Check for yourself, you can find the full text of the Act on It appears that most data collected by the ABS is done on the basis of voluntary cooperation. The scary words in this context mean that the Act gives the ABS the power to direct someone to provide statistical information, and then to prosecute if that person does not comply. The key words are "statistical information". As your name is not statistical information, the ABS cannot direct you to provide it, or prosecute you for refusing to give them your name.

Shane, 6 August 2011

Shane, this is brilliant! I was starting to adopt the attitude: you can have my name rank and service number, or the rest of the data, but not both!! Your discovery is very helpful for those of us who would much prefer to leave the names out.

J., 7 August 2011

Isn't this same as the compulsory voting argument?

Tom N., 7 August 2011

@Tom N. No. It is not. When you vote, your name is simply crossed off the list. Nobody can link your voting ballot to you. Your ballot is absolutely anonymous. And you can do whatever you like with it . The AEC of course prefers you to vote according to their instructions, but nobody can prosecute you for doing otherwise. If you use your ballot properly - it is counted, if not - it is discarded. This is how the census SHOULD work. Imagine if the AEC was demanding that you put your name, date of birth and address on the ballot, and promised to keep that data "secure" and have some self-invented rules about who can access it...What sort of a democratic society would we have had then? Unfortunately the AEC does share our data with other entities, but at least neither of those seem to be knocking our doors and demanding that we fill their lengthy and intrusive forms.
@J. I am not a lawyer, but that is my understanding. I just wanted to point it out. Hopefully others do their research and make their own informed decision.

Shane, 7 August 2011

Does anyone actually have an example of census helping with any decent public planning? Methinks our atrocious public transport system speaks volumes.

Hugh, Sydney NSW Australia, 14 September 2011

Sure nobody saw a problem with the Census and Statistics Act in 1905 when it was enacted. However, the ABS can't keep using the powers given to them over a century ago if during that time they completely altered the nature of the census. In 1905 it was also ok to deny women jobs, voting and human rights. We don't do it now, do we?

F.D., 30 May 2012

What's increasingly annoying is the crowd of sheeple who have no respect for their own rights and support the changes that strip others of their rights too. Their favourite argument as that people post more about themselves on Facebook than they have to share in the census, or that people use supermarket reward cards, frequent flyer points, and so on... To me, this is a lousy point: nobody has to sign up for Facebook, or supermarket/flyer tracking programs. It is a personal CHOICE. But you can't opt out of the ABS's data grab.

Anonymous, 15 November 2012

I am truly reluctant to provide any personal information in the survey the ABS want me to do. Seeing how things change, I am concerned that at the stroke of a pen they can release the data to anyone and let this data to be used for any purpose in the future.

Anonymous, 8 January 2013

It is most puzzling that the ABS threatens people with notice of direction, fines and jail. These cannot be legally possible, because to direct a person to comply, to fine, or to put in jail, the ABS must first obtain the name of that person. But(!) the ABS also say that by law(!) no information they hold can be used for law enforcement.

Anonymous, 31 March 2013

It looks like the government, bureaucrats and security agencies are eventually going to have a feast with our data, all at our expense. The solution? Contact Members of Parliament and the media, as many as you can. Mobilise your friends and family to do the same, and to write comments and complain across all the social media they are using. If it isn't looking good now, it will only get progressively worse. All because we all let it.

Nikki, Melbourne VIC Australia, 22 June 2013

There has to be someone at the household who tells the ABS canvassers the name(s) in the first place. This is legally the only way they can then go on and threaten you with fines. Otherwise they can only write their survey/census letters "to the resident" or "to the householder".

Anonymous, 10 July 2013

Hey ABS employees, do you draw your bedroom curtains at night or close the door when you go to the bathroom? Because if you do, you know what privacy is and you want to have yours. Being forced to make my private life government property through your survey feels much worse than living without doors or curtains.

Anonymous, 27 May 2014

Don't the ABS remember anymore whose information this is they are collecting? Their stealthy decision to keep names and address was downright insulting. This should be a matter of a long and transparent public debate, not something simply put out on before Christmas. Compare the publicity of that announcement with the publicity, tv and radio ads, letters and door knocking for the census. The massive difference just shows what the ABS does when it says it wants to hear from the public, and when it really wants to hear from the public.

Anonymous, 30 December 2015

Would it be Ok to stalk or spy on someone if you posted a note on your website about your plans in advance? The answer seems to be: no, unless you are the ABS.

Anonymous, 2 January 2016

This is sick and sad. This agency's voracity for personal data has crossed the line. I wonder how many people will be forced to start thinking about disobeying the orders for the first time in their life and start leaving some answers blank. I've always filled my census filly and truthfully, but the recent changes shattered all the trust I had in the ABS assurances and agenda.

Anonymous, 18 January 2016

It seem the ABS has made no note of the privacy concerns expressed in recent years. Despite their platitudes, nobody can or will give any guarantees of what will happen this our data in the future. The people who make any promises today know full well that by the time the hell breaks loose, they will be in a comfortable retirement funded by stripping other people of their privacy.

Anonymous, 11 February 2016

The irony is that I used to enjoy participating in the census. And I liked to see the results when they became available. But now the keeping of names and linking of data between all arms of the government has completely changed my attitude. I don't want to break any laws or pointlessly battle the ABS behemoth in court, but from now on I will be putting extra efforts into arranging overseas travels at census time.

Al, 29 February 2016

You almost can see the attackers eager to get their hands on all that data. Particularly the data of those Average Joe types from the "nothing to hide" brigade. A gold mine for identity theft and fraud. And then those naive sheeple will be crying that we need more surveillance and stricter laws for safety and security. Anyone with half a brain can see where this is going.

W.A., 2 March 2016

Interesting, who is really behind these changes? Maybe the ABS is not the culprit? After all, they are supposed to be doing statistics only, right? But you can bet that certain other agencies are dreaming to get a cross-linked dossier on everyone. The ABS with their census might be just a front.

Anonymous, 13 March 2016

The retention of names and addresses is only the tip of the iceberg. The more worrying aspect is that the census is now joined with other personal data repositories. When you fill out the census form, you at least know what you put in. But when the ABS start fishing for data in other places, you don't know what they add to your file, you don't even know whether what they add is true and correct.

Daniel, 18 March 2016

I've no idea who the ABS gets to do their privacy and security assessment, but anyone working with data knows the rule: the more data is gathered, the greater the chance it will be exploited.

Phil, 21 March 2016

It is amazing that the ABS ignores the fact that anonymity is an important condition if they want frank and honest answers from people. Turning the census into a surveillance state tool will no doubt influence how people answer the questions. I guess the ABS prefers using compulsion and threats of fines to gauge the answers rather than creating favourable conditions for willing participation.

Anonymous, 12 June 2016

You know it is not a good idea if even the ex-Australian Statistician has problem with the ABS current practices. Big thanks to Bill McLennan for having the courage to voice an honest opinion: "Unfortunately, Australian citizens will have no control over how their personal information is handled in the forthcoming Census of Population and Housing. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is collecting the name and address of each Australian, will retain that information and will match the census records with various administrative records held by government. Australians will be given no say in how their information is used as the ABS has said the provision of name and address is compulsory. This, without doubt, is the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS and a direct and deliberate breach of Australia's Privacy Principles. By doing this, the ABS has put the very success and value of the 2016 census at significant risk."

T.M., 17 July 2016

So how many people have actually complained to their local MP or the minister(s) responsible? Don't you think it's important that the government is aware it is doing something unacceptable?

Elizabeth, Sydney NSW Australia, 21 July 2016

It may be a bit too late for the ministerial complaints for this census (though certainly worth doing for the next one). But there are things we can still do to send the ABS a message. I am not the ABS, so I am not going to tell what everyone else must do, I will tell what I will be doing. Your choice is up to you.
Don't do the census online. Call the ABS and request paper forms. If asked why, say you have concerns about online security and the ability of the online census to handle the load.
Specifically request individual census forms for everyone in the household (this is the pink form, one per person). They are much more private than the online form or the household paper form (beige). And unlike on the combined household form, you won't be required to provide the information about the relationships between the people. Every bit of personal information that you can legally avoid sharing counts towards your privacy.
Leave your name blank (as per Bill McLennan's article, this information is not statistical data and should not be demanded by the ABS).
Fill in your age instead of your date of birth.
Do not sign the form. Firstly, it is unclear what you are actually singing for. Secondly, it is unclear what the ABS will do with the sample of your signature. And thirdly, your signature is a sign of your consent and approval, neither of which is applicable to the census done under duress. Or sign it 'V.C.'/'Vi Coactus' meaning 'having been forced' in Latin. I will be physically cutting the piece of the form with the signature field out.
Ask for privacy envelopes and seal each form separately.

Anonymous, 24 July 2016

Fair point about the paper forms! Paper forms cannot be hacked or stolen en masse, but the online data can. I have no doubts every half-serious hacker will at least try. And by using paper forms you avoid sending your data through IBM (American corporation), which is who the ABS is going to use for online census.

Anonymous, 25 July 2016

Re IBM, paper forms may not provide better safety here. For all we know, the ABS may stick our data there when the paper forms are digitised. The paper forms are more valuable due to their higher cost. Did you notice how the ABS's appetites for data retention sprung up after people stated filling the census online? Online census is much cheaper for the ABS to run, which leaves them extra budget for ramping up data linking and expanding the collection and storage of information. The higher costs of paper processing may have a very a positive effect on the privacy in the future censi.

B., 25 July 2016

Another idea for the online census, as it most likely won't let you leave fields blank, to fill the name as To The Resident. Because that's who the ABS envelope with the census code is addressed to. If you are filling the census using that code, doesn't it mean you are accepting that name?? :-)

Anonymous, 28 July 2016

Wondering, will it crash?

Anonymous, 28 July 2016

Of course it will crash! :) 10 or 15 million households logging in on the night. The ABS is delusional if they think they will handle this AND the hacker attacks. Those who attempted to use myGov know what to expect.

B., 28 July 2016

Here we are, witnessing the rise of an authoritarian state. A fundamental change affecting every Australian done without any public or parliamentarian debate. Something that used to be purely statistical is now a personal.

Anonymous, 1 August 2016

Looks like that's how things are done now: some faceless bureaucrat 'decided', and everyone must comply. No politician will lose their votes, nobody's fault, nobody's responsibility. How very convenient! If it was some truly beneficial change, they would be falling over themselves to tell everyone that that's their achievement.

Jen, Newcastle NSW Australia, 2 August 2016

"Census data is used to inform future planning and decisions" Waaat??? Funds for healthcare and education are cut like there's no tomorrow! If that's what we've got by filling all the previous censuses properly, we better bail out.

Sean, 2 August 2016

I will use the paper form and intend to fill it out accurately, but omit all names. I believe that statistics are important, but the retention of my name and cross-matching of all my personal data is something I cannot agree to.

Anonymous, 4 August 2016

What is this if not a sign that Australia is regressing into a police state. Anyone who thinks that it can't happen, do some good reading on the world's political history. It has happened before, and will happen again if we permit it. As the saying goes, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Mohamed, 4 August 2016

Hear, hear. This is exactly how authoritarian regimes get established: through the apathy of the majority, not its approval! That is why Assange and Snowden are treated the way they are. Not because they did wrong but because the rest of the world has swallowed the "national security" bullshit and is looking the other way.

Anonymous, 4 August 2016

I used to believe in the census. I have a job that uses the ABS data, so I am supposed to be a strong proponent of the census. But even for me this is going too far. Time to start looking for a different job. The only way to clear my conscience. I don't want to be a part of anything the ABS will do next.

Anonymous, 5 August 2016

15000000 households all logging in on the 9th, obeying the ABS, supplying their personal data and creating a humongous honeypot for any hacker worth its salt.... What could possibly go wrong???

Anonymous, 6 August 2016

If those who remain silent don't give a **** about the privacy laws and we now have no choice, why not make it fun? I've just read through the blasted Census Act, and absolutely nowhere it says the person is obliged to be sober when filling it out. Maybe Tuesdays are my get-blind-drunk night. So far no law says I cannot consume any legally obtained substance on my property in my free time. :))

Jono, 7 August 2016

The new interlinked, cross-referenced, integrated, personalised dataset will without doubt become a huge interest for numerous third parties, not the least of which will be the criminal interests. The ABS's suggestion that this data is going to be secure is a joke.

Anonymous, 8 August 2016

We may be well on the way to surveillance from cradle to grave, but it doesn't mean we have to go down that path without protest.

Anonymous, 8 August 2016

Civil disobedience is a valid and important option. Thanks to it, we no longer have slavery or apartheid, no longer deny women equal rights. Despite each of those protests seen by the authorities as 'illegal' at the time, aren't we glad now that those people persisted?

Zoe, 8 August 2016

Well, my act of civil disobedience will be to leave my name blank tomorrow (or be The Householder if the online census won't accept an empty input). I am not supplying any false information, nor do I refuse to supply any STATISTICAL data. So there we have it. If every Australian who doesn't want to add their name did same, there would be no chance of ABS fining everyone or saying that Australians approve the growing intrusions into their privacy.

Anonymous, 8 August 2016

The odd thing is that I now have an issue with the census only because they decided to keep the names and addresses.

Anonymous, 9 August 2016

This mission creep is alarming. Too late to book an overseas flight now, but I know when I'm taking a break in 2021.

Kate, 9 August 2016

Just as expected by everyone but the government/ABS, the online census was a spectacular stuff up. They will never learn.

Anonymous, 10 August 2016

I have happily filled out the census in the past, believing it was important for the public good. However this year's changes have completely undermined my trust in the census, the ABS, and the government agenda in general. I feel that by participating I was giving a green light to an emerging totalitarian regime. It is sad that obeying the rules now feels shameful and disgusting.

Anonymous, 11 August 2016

Now the door-knocking pests from the Post Enumeration Survey want to collect my personal data, again. Apparently, I've been 'chosen'. I am effin' sick of this! I am normally a calm and polite person, but this has gone too far. I realise that the clowns say what the ABS trained them to say, but it's hard to overcome the urge to slam the door and never open it again.

Anonymous, 20 September 2016

Instead of remaining true to its original purpose, i.e. anonymous statistics, and resisting the desires of data-hungry governments and corporations to turn the ABS into a panopticon surveillance tool, the ABS is actively expanding its access to personal data of Australians held by other departments and organisations and expanding its abilities to cross-reference and combine this data into a comprehensive dossier on each Australian, and expecting the same level of public trust and cooperation it had in 1905. Why?

Stefan, 26 March 2017

Why? Because people would rather care about Kardashian arse than about their rights and privacy being destroyed.

Anonymous, 1 April 2017

Because we allow it. This is the only way such things can happen in a democracy. So we are either a bunch of lazy whingers, or we no longer have a democracy.

Shane, 14 June 2017

We no longer talking about the traditional census, despite its name, right? We are talking about a pretext and a tool for creating individual dossier on all citizens for the law enforcement, immigration and intelligence agencies. If someone omits and gets creative with their answers, the ABS will mark them as 'refusal', and it's anyone's guess what can happen to those people later, when all the laws safeguarding personal freedoms and freedom of speech are gradually changed. The ultimate solution is to label the dissidents as 'terrorists' or a 'threat to national security' and lock them up, as a lesson to everybody else. But hopefully we are not at that point. Not yet. We probably still have a few censuses to go.

Anonymous, 3 September 2017

The ABS say they will keep census data for four years. Even if that is true, it is no longer relevant. Whether they promise to "delete" our names and addresses after 6 months, 18 months or 4 years, the ABS now has access to almost all personal data other government departments have. They can "delete" the names, but then get a fresh database from Medicare or ATO and re-link everyone back. The ABS no longer need names and addresses in plain text to compile a file on everyone. The only way to fix this gigantic problem of mass surveillance under the guise of "statistics" is to limit the ABS's scope to collection and processing census anonymously and forbid its access to any other databases containing personal data.

Anonymous, 25 November 2017

Most people in Australia are good natured, trusting, and just want an worry-free free life. These traits are now severely abused, which is a crime against our national identity. That's what the media should turn its attention to when they want to talk about 'un-Australian'.

E.C., 23 January 2018

If 'richer' datasets are their priority, then privacy laws are just an annoying obstacle in their quest of reaching that target. It is logical to expect that they will keep pushing further, until all data secrecy provisions are scrapped and each person's data is collected and aggregated and shared continuously in real-time.

Anonymous, 8 March 2018

Act of 1905!? They must be kidding. Did they have hackers, online scams, crashing websites and data mining back then? We are lucky the laws on this continent are relatively young. Elseways we could have been subject to some mediaeval law giving the ABS powers to execute by hanging, drawing and quartering.

Mathew H., 9 August 2018

As dated the 1905 sounds, I have a suspicions that there was more respect for privacy then. We are yet to see what the new Data Sharing and Release Bill will be shaped into.

Anonymous, 24 October 2018

The ABS should really come off them saying that they will not be selling our names and addresses online or giving all our data to anyone who would pay or ask for it. Sure at the moment we have a law that prohibits it. But is there anyone who can GUARANTEE that this law will NEVER change. Everyone remembers how we had no law that allowed to put everyone's health records out in the Internet, and how that law was quickly passed when the government decided they want to do it anyway. There is no opposition in our government. The two big parties criticise and pop-poo each other's deeds, but once they swap places, the next in power just rename whatever they we criticising and continue doing the same shit.

Anonymous, 22 December 2018

Of course the govt doesn't need our personally identifiable information for "planning". They don't have any plans to satisfy the needs of each of us individually. If the events of recent years are anything to go by, the data of interest is that which would allow to do the bare minimum just enough to keep the population quiet, fearful and obedient. Presumably, with a Stasi-like file on each of us, that goal can be achieved sooner and with lesser effort. Which will give the spin doctors a perfect chance to call it progress, optimisation, improvements, enhancements, etc. Just look at China with its social credit system. This is what happens when all personal data of each individual gets linked in the hands of one authority.

Anonymous, 19 February 2019

If the data collected and processed by the ABS is what the clowns in parliament houses use for making their policies, then we all better off for not having it! We hear nothing but the "jobs-n-growth" mantra, like a broken record. Are they too busy playing their political games to realise that it's not the growth that is needed but economic sustainability? Their policies made our economy too vulnerable, it goes belly up whenever it doesn't get a steady population influx dope supply or raw material exports take a dive. Can't they see that the economy can't be made dependent on mining and on population numbers forever increasing through reproduction and immigration? You get more people, the you of course get more consumers, but you also need to provide more jobs. So you dig another hole in the ground and get a vicious cycle. Growth > jobs > growth > jobs >..... But the habitable land is finite, so is air, water, food, energy, minerals and most other resources. The only thing that wants to grow forever is cancer. And just as cancer eventually kills its host, our obsession with growth will eventually kill our host. Our environment.

H.K., 18 May 2019

ABS claims that "information from the Census helps governments, businesses and not for profit organisations across the country make informed decisions." Huh? The only data either side of Australian politics appears to be interested in is the data that helps to cut corners or do nothing without losing votes. We are too short-sighted, unable to see past 3-word slogans and put up with a temporary inconvenience for a better long-term outcome. We get what we deserve.

Anonymous, 29 September 2019

If you are told by the ABS that you 'must' to take part in one of their surveys, don't sign up for their online survey account and insist on an alternative. They want your mobile phone number and email address for that account. My elderly mother did as she was told, and now completely lost her peace of mind. She is getting scam messages claiming to be various government depts, the ABS amongst them, and is under huge stress what to do. Both the scammers and the ABS can threaten with criminal proceedings, and she just doesn't know which is real and which is fake. Before she signed up for the ABS account, she knew to discard every message like that. Now she calls me after each such message in tears and horror. The ABS attitude is 'take, take, take'. Take your time, take your data, take your privacy, take your safety, and leave you to deal with scamming criminals. They just decided that online accounts are more convenient and cheaper for them [presumably to save more money to do more of these surveys] so they just told an elderly woman that she 'must' sign up and complete their survey online. They don't care about the risk they are creating for the law-abiding participants by demanding their mobile and email in that account and not giving any alternative that would not require email address or a phone number. If my mother could do this survey without giving them her mobile and email, none of this nightmare would be happening.

Anonymous, 6 November 2019

Trouble with the ABS's so-called public consultations or with lodging a complaint is that they want your name, address and contacts with that. The reason I have a complaint is that I do not want to give them my identifying data. Excellent method to keep all those who disagree silent.

G., 28 November 2019

Does anyone know how to delete the ABS survey account? I can't find anything about this on their site. The account allows to update my data, bot not to delete it!! I want to wipe everything out and close it permanently. I don't want them to have my contact details forever. If what they say is true that my house was randomly selected from whole Australia, there is no chance I should be selected again. Them holding onto my info and my account makes me think they are lying and I will be forced into another survey.

Anonymous, 5 December 2019

The ABS Online Survey Account has phone number marked with a red asterisk as mandatory. The page says, if you don't have phone number, contact us [link]. The link opens another page that says that to contact the ABS you have to either fill an enquiry form which has phone number marked as mandatory, or call them to one of the 1800 numbers from the list. "Call us if you don't have a phone." WTF? Seriously?

Anonymous, 12 December 2019

Where is the government with its data and desire to plan for the future when it comes to digging coal mines in the midst of food-producing Hunter Valley? Where is it when thousands of people are choking from coal dust, developing diseases and risking premature death due to pollution? Where is it when it comes to saving our environment, ensuring our food security and population health? It already has all the necessary scientific and medical reports to do something useful, and yet it is looking the other way. It only turns to us when it needs our money (tax time) or our private data (census time).

Anonymous, Singleton NSW Australia, 23 January 2020

The extent of privacy abuse and its consequences are extremely concerning. It is getting dangerous! In my line of work I increasingly meet people who now avoid seeing a doctor and don't get the necessary medical help plainly because they know that the relationship between the doctor and the patient is no longer confidential. They are afraid that the highly sensitive health data is now shared far and wide by the whole system. They have no control over what the agencies like the ABS can decide to do with that information. They cannot opt out of this sharing. So they resort to the only option left to them - stop using the system altogether and avoid the situations where they have to feed more data into the system. People see this gradual encroachment on their privacy and conclude that the governmental and corporate promises of privacy protection are worthless, and taking risks with their health and life to protect what is left of their privacy, dignity and autonomy. This is extremely harmful and can cost lives!

Anonymous, 3 March 2020

Maybe that's not an unfortunate side effect? Maybe that's the result of the government strategic planning courtesy ABS? The fewer people seek medical attention, the more healthcare funding can be cut. :[

Pete, 18 March 2020

What tricks are they doing with that data? How come the Medicare levy doubled since 1986, but the benefits it provides decreased significantly? And don't give me the pitch about us living longer. There is no way we or our kids will live longer with droughts, dead crops, dust storms, depleting marine life, and massive fires becoming the norm.

Anonymous, 13 April 2020

No tricks. Just human nature. Lib/Lab simply promise/do what gives them power for the next 3 years. There is no political gain in making decisions that will bring results in 30 years. Too far. Too hard. Too risky. Too unpopular.

Lynn, 25 April 2020

Has someone actually complained to their MPs and the Privacy Commissioner? Clearly not enough, as the ABS is not backing out of their dossier-building operation. They added a mental health question to the 2021 census. Will they interrogate us about sexual preference and political affiliation it 2026? If we continue sitting on our hands, they will surely try.

M., 24 June 2020

A sustainable economy operates by making things cleverly better, not stupidly bigger. Sad, but Australia seems to be nowhere close to changing its death spiral course. And if this trajectory has been guided for the past century by the ABS data, then what have they spent the past century abusing our privacy for?

Anonymous, 2 September 2020

Of course the laws can and will change. Example: our leaders will soon push the Data Availability and Transparency Act through the Parliament. You can still contribute you opinion about it, if you want, and see where they stick it. Even if this Act offers reasonable protections initially, they will tweak and alter it later. This can, now or in the future, override both individual rights to privacy and all the data confidentiality promises given by the ABS. All for the 'public good', naturally. But even when they crack open and share all our data, I bet they will not abolish the census. It can be used to gouge extra information that they don't yet have. Rinse and repeat every 5 years.

Anonymous, 30 September 2020

'Planning', my ass!! Most people want clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, food free of toxins to eat, and have a safe and sustainable life. But in Australia we keep digging coal, ignoring scientific facts, making the economy dependant on the whims of totalitarian states like China, penalising consumers with a hefty tax when they want to buy a cleaner electric car, while giving tax exemptions to archaic religious entities.

Anonymous, 7 October 2020

I can't believe the ABS learned nothing from the detrimental effects on public trust in 2016. They don't have my trust anymore, that's for sure. I do think the census is important, but this crusade on privacy is astonishing.

Jason, 11 October 2020

My family had to flee a country where rights and freedoms were eroded and eventually taken away in the name of the mysterious public good. It was a process spanning many years, first subtle and cleverly disguised as something benign, later becoming formidable and dangerous. My parents and grandparents lost everything but their lives, and thought themselves luckier than many others. They worked hard to make their new home here and contribute as much as they could to a better Australia. They never though they will have to see the worryingly recognisable signs of that process again, and that is very frightening. I really don't want to see the history repeat itself for my generation or my children.

Anonymous, 15 October 2020