Australian Bureau of Statistics and privacy issues
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
What is really behind the census?
Destroying trust and privacy one step at a time
Risking hacker attacks and data misuse
Disregarding public concerns
Using dubious pretexts
ABS household surveys
What you can do to defend your privacy
The key difference between a surveillance dossier and statistics is that statistics don't need to know your name and address.
Australians would know too well what this page is about, but for the international readers who might be lucky to have no idea, this page is about the doings of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the organisation that has the power to force any resident of Australia to answer their questions. This bureau has nothing to do with law enforcement, and the person has done nothing wrong, but the person is obliged to answer all the same.
Every five years, the ABS compel everyone in Australia to participate in their census. In addition to mandatory census, they can select any person at any time for a compulsory survey and force to answer the questions that can be of a very private nature, including questions about health, finances, family matters and personal relationships. If the person refuses to participate in this interrogation, they are risking serious fines, court, and even imprisonment. The answers to the questions can be linked to the person's data from other souses, kept for any length of time, and used for various purposes, the scope of which can be expanded and altered at any time.
For the residents of some free democratic countries this might seem unthinkable. However, for the residents of Australia this is reality with a steadily intensifying invasiveness that privacy advocates have been unable to halt or restrain.
The Australian Privacy Foundation invested vast amounts of time in the lead-up to each of the '06, '11 and '16 census events. The impact we had was considerable in '06, but has declined each time since.
The simple fact is that the ABS has long since abandoned its once exemplary stand on privacy. It has now positioned itself as the operator of a centralised database on the whole population, expropriating data from many government agencies, retaining all Census and Survey data in identified form, and consolidating it all into a single, dense record.
The Australian Privacy Foundation on the 2021 Census
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 governments 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 throughout the person's lifetime.
A century ago, census was the only relatively accurate way to count the population and estimate what 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 spesialised, but it should be sufficient for general statistics and planning in the relevant areas. One can only guess the true ABS motives, but the recent line of events indicaties that for some reason they saw the need to cross the line and move from collecting anonymised statistics towards compiling a detailed life-long 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 the 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 admitted that now 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:
- Anonymisation is an irreversible removal of all identity data of the data contributor, which guarantees that any future re-identification is impossible under any condition.
- De-identification removes and/or encodes the identity data to make it not readily-identifiable, but it preserves the identifying information in some form, which can be re-linked in the future.
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.
www.abs.gov.au, How The ABS Keeps Your Information Confidential
2020 update: the ABS no longer uses the “anonymisation” term and, as the population is gradually trained to accept that true privacy and control over one's personal data are no longer the real world concepts, moved towards using the “separation principle” term, which describes the practice of storing personal identifiers such as the name, address and date of birth separately from other information about that individual, with the ability to link them again when they see fit.
Destroying trust and privacy one step at a time
Until census 2006, 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 census 2011, 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, 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 census 2016, 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 was not only retained, but also that the ABS got access to other personal data repositories that had 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 own conclusions about the worth of the ABS's word, and how much your opinion really matters to the ABS.
informed by public submissions ABS-style was done as follows: on 11 November 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 census 2021, 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 military grade 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
For census 2021, the ABS began sourcing and using the so-called administrative data, which includes personal income tax information from the ATO, Medicare enrolments, Centrelink data, electricity connections and rentals data.
The ABS could fill the gaps using combined administrative data... The first step to filling any gaps would be to find any records from the combined registrations of Tax, Medicare and Centrelink administration systems that appear to be missing from the Census... The administrative data would supply at least the age, sex and area of residence information, which are key outputs from the Census. The next step would be to fill in further Census information for these records using both administrative data and 2016 Census data where possible. For example, we may be able to identify family relationships from Centrelink and Medicare records, and/or fill in information from the 2016 Census that wouldn't have changed over time, such as Country of Birth.
www.abs.gov.au, Using administrative data to fill potential data gaps in the Census
It however remains a mystery how the ABS intends to combine the 2016 census data with all the personal data it harvested from other sources if they swore to delete all names and addresses from 2016 census 36 months after that census at the latest.
In 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has become an Integrating Authority under the Commonwealth data integration arrangements. As such, they have an ongoing access to the data in the Medicare Consumer Directory, Centrelink Administrative Data and Personal Income Tax. The identifying details of every person who had been entered into at least one of these databases since 2006 have been harvested and added to the so-called Person Linkage Spine, which is continuously updated and augmented, keeping track of the changes of names and addresses of each person. The Spine is then used for Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP), which links the information form the census, household surveys and a multitude of other sources: Australian Taxation Office; Department of Education, Skills and Employment; Department of Health; Department of Social Services; Services Australia. This
provides whole-of-life insights about various population groups in Australia.
Over several decades, Australians have rejected all proposals of a national identity card (aka Australia Card), not least because they didn't want to live in an authoritarian panopticon state. They didn't want all their personal data held by different sectors of government to be linked into one comprehensive dossier. Despite this democratic opposition, such linking is now happening, only via a different route and under a different name.
Shall we be worried? After all the ABS says it
protects your privacy and is committed to keeping your information safe and secure. For how long though? Perhaps only until the next change removes these protections. Can anyone trust such promises anymore?
Rights advocates have consistently argued that not only will such initiatives turn nations into more authoritarian societies, but they will fundamentally change for all time the relationship between citizen and state, the nature of government, and the character of the nation.
A national identity card involves the concept of converged or “joined-up” data resources. This poses grave threats to the security of data. It also introduces the inevitability that data will be lost, misinterpreted, mutated or abused. Multiple-agency access to sensitive data greatly increases the potential for misuse of information, either through corrupt disclosure or lapses in security.
An overview of campaigns of opposition to National Identity Card proposals, Australian Privacy Foundation
Some would say that if the government wants to link all the data about each person, even against the will of the public, it might be better done by the ABS, as they are obliged to provide at least some privacy protections. However, the problem with giving such task to the ABS is in their unprecedented powers and capabilities: they now have access to the most comprehensive databases containing personal data; they have extremely powerful technical means for infinite data linking, analysis and storage; and they have the unique powers to force private individuals into answering almost any personal questions. No other government agency can or is allowed to do this, and for a good reason.
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 — separated, encoded, or whatever.
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.
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 essentially 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 was affected by a cyber-attack, despite ABS's assurances that they were well-prepared.
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.
1 August 2021 update: the ABS appears to be attempting to deal with the public outrage, complaints and disapproval by labelling it as rumours and suspicious information, rather than by ceasing their own activities that caused the negative reaction in the first place. On the census.abs.gov.au site, under the title of “Identifying false information”, the ABS published an appeal to
report any inaccurate or suspicious information you read or hear, including such instances as social media posts by
people misunderstanding the nature and role of the census. Which can potentially include any comments criticising the census, the extent to which it collects identifying information and links it to personal data held by other agencies, and the alarming increase of this data linking with every subsequent census.
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 thatbecause 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 under a long list of common religious affiliations and several empty lines dedicated to the “other” answer option. Millions of people could easily miss this option.
The result of such bias-inducing design wasn't only in that it made Australian taxpayers over-subsidise religious institutions, but it also exaggerated the religiousness of Australian population and allowed religions to influence political decisions in such secular areas as public health, which, for example, made Australia to remain one of the last developed countries where abortion was still the subject of criminal law until 2021! If the ABS had been truly seeking an unbiased representation of Australian population, the question would have been worded
Do you practice any religion? and the “no religion” option would have been put first, above the list of various faiths. The truly devoted, religious people would have had no trouble skipping the atheistic answer, while the people who are not seriously religious would not have been confused. Thus the ABS's claim, that the elimination of bias is important to the point of justifying coercion, doesn't hold up.
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 appears to be very concerned about bias when people are defending their privacy, but has no problems with the bias of its own creation.
ABS Household 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
In a democratic country —if Australia is indeed such a country— people have two avenues for expressing their will and having their concerns addressed:
- Contact your local member of parliament and let them know about your grievances with the ABS. If your MP is from one of the two major parties, you will most likely get a formulaic fob-off response or no response at all, because neither the Australian Labor Party nor the Liberal Party of Australia have privacy protection in their policies and agendas. But if enough people make similar complaints, the issue will eventually gain recognition.
- Vote for smaller parties and independent political candidates who have genuine and serious interests in safeguarding our privacy and in ensuring our rights and legal means to defend it.
Until privacy advocates win enough seats in the Australian parliament, the only sure and legal way to avoid the ABS intrusions, according to the readers, 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 used to say (as of 2023, the ABS appear to have removed this question from their FAQs. The ABS Survey Account Help page still states that
providing your name is optional, although creating this account requires a mobile number, which in Australia is never anonymous):
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, abs.gov.au
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 Census Review (previously known as the Post Enumeration Survey or 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.
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 real meaning behind ABS's 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 soon after collection, which was true before 2011, but now it is kept: the ABS simply moves names and addresses to a different file, which allows them to say that they “removed” the identifiable data. From abs.gov.au 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 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 abs.gov.au 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.
In addition, question the security of the devices the ABS staff use. From the census employee application, it appears that the staff are required to use their own mobile devices with an internet connection for entering information. A personal device that has ever been used for any other purpose can potentially be infected with malware and compromise the security of the data.
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. Publish your opinions and comments on social media and other online platforms. The more people become aware and discuss the issue, the higher is the chance of positive changes. Ignore the silly remarks from the people mentioning paranoia, tin foil hats, or 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 should 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
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
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 for 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 austlii.edu.au. 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 abs.gov.au 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 made 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 for 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 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
Yes I think it's important to remain firm and vigilant but polite. The census workers are people too. And they only know what the ABS tells them to say. They have been deceived into the same thinking as the sizeable chunk of the population.
Anonymous, 19 October 2016
I have on Dec 26 received a threat of prosecution if I do not comply with the ABS demand that I, as one of 26,000 across Australia, comply with their request that I fill out the enclosed forms. If I refuse, the "fine" is $180.00 per day and counting.
I shan't be doing that which they demand. For one as with millions of other Australians I have observed the absolute chaos attached to the recent National Census; two, I don't believe that I should be discriminated against by being one of the 0.1% of households "chosen"; and three, their promise of complete secrecy is clearly a lie. I provided all the data that legitimate statistics should require, but I shall not bow to their deceptive misleading garbage concocted to strip a private individual of all privacy. So they'll prosecute me, they threaten.
Anonymous, Australia, 1 January 2017
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 medieval 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
Totally agree! These changes to census look like an alarming sign of Australia shifting towards a police state. Only a police state requires a dossier on every person for its operation!
This may seem Ok while we have a benign government, but things can change, and change quickly. Look at the radical, fascist and neo-Nazi parties scoring large portions of votes in recent years in so called "western democracies"; or the political imbeciles, sanctimonious lunatics, and self-proclaimed dictators coming to power. Naïve are those who think it can't possibly happen closer to home.
Tomislav, Australia, 14 February 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
It looks like the ABS have never intended to listen or learn from their Census 2016. All this looks like zero regard for personal privacy. Now they want to grab more data, link it further, and keep it for longer, giving us the same old hype "You must fill it out, otherwise in X years you will be complaining that there are not enough lanes on your local highway, no places for your kids in your local school, not enough beds in hospitals and aged care facilities, blah blah blah..." That's rubbish! They already know the necessary info, where people live, how old they are, and how many kids they have. They also know how much traffic there is on highways and how bad hospital bed shortages and waiting lists are. Census is now all about data matching, catching people out, and possibly flagging them. Haven't anyone noticed how many of their questions are just rephrased over and over trying to catch us out? Haven't you thought why they suddenly want to keep names and addresses and why departments like ATO want to have access to cross-linked census data? Remember the Jewish people, who too were made to comply and answer the race question that was suddenly included in the German Census 1939, and what sort of 'public transport' option that facilitated for them. Sadly, mankind learns nothing from its history! Now add data retention, data mining, and data linking it between all bureaucratic institutions. That's why I feel deeply aggrieved by the situation with the Australian Census 2021.
Anonymous, 3 November 2020
I sincerely hope that COVID travel restrictions will be over by August 2021. I would really love to be overseas on 10 August 2021, for obvious reasons. I don't want to deal with the ABS ever again. I no longer trust them with one bit of my personal information. I have no respect for an agency that think they can change their MO and strip private individuals of their privacy whenever it suits them, who think they are a law unto themselves and can do whatever they like. All they need is to say that it will "enhance statistics". Super convenient pretext! Virtually anything can be done under its guise. They state in their Privacy, Confidentiality & Security policy "The Census and Statistics Act 1905, requires that Census data is never released in identifiable form, or released to any court, tribunal or other agency. This will not change. No identifiable, private or confidential data will be shared by the ABS with anyone", but who is going to believe a single word of theirs after what they have done in recent years? Their Census Act 1905 didn't require them to collect or keep names and addresses either, yet they changed the procedure and threatened to fine those who did not submit. If they weren't lying and really could not use anyone's personal data in any court, tribunal or other agency, then how on earth could they fine anyone or take to court for refusing to let them invade private lives of private individuals? They are lying through their teeth, while increasingly impinging on everybody's privacy. It appals me that there isn't more negative publicity and criticism of the unacceptable strategies of this Census Bureau.
Lucas, 19 November 2020
I believe the Bureau of Statistics call it an 'incremental change' to the Census Data Enhancement program. Which is basically a strategy used by an organisation in doing something highly detrimental, undemocratic or unpopular, i.e. do the bad deed bit by bit, gradually, and hope that not many will notice, thus avoiding most of the public criticism and protest. The ABS has begun their assault on citizen privacy in 2006, and are now in the process of expanding their data integration and morphing into a mass surveillance agency. Alongside with concentrating ministerial oversight of border control, national security and law enforcement in one hands since 2017, it is easy to see how Australian can eventually get its very own Stasi.
Anonymous, 30 November 2020
Did you notice how there is no overseeing minister who has sole responsibility for the ABS? On paper, the ABS "maintain a close relationship with the Department of the Treasury", but the Treasurer is not responsible (how convenient!). The Assistant Minister to the Treasurer is, or the Assistant Treasurer, or this can change again and the responsible person gets replaced once more. This responsible position is volatile and can be held by several different ministers in one year. Which means the Australian public cannot excise their democratic right and vote the responsible minister out for the damages the ABS has done to personal privacy and public trust in our country. The ABS also conveniently created a wiggle room by insisting that they nevertheless "act independently". So in reality, they are not answerable to anyone, are not subject to democratic scrutiny, and can do whatever they like without any sort of oversight or punishment. Which is exactly what we have been seeing in recent years.
Duncan C., Canberra ACT Australia, 2 December 2020
How do we even know how the ABS select the unfortunate victims for their extracurricular surveys? What prove is there? They say it's totally random, but how do we actually know? Who would trust anything the ABS say anymore? They can just as well single anyone out, and target any particular person, family or household for any ulterior reason. Why else would they want to keep everyone's name if not for that??
Now that all names are kept on file, the ABS can collect some starter data during the census, then pick the persons of interest based on that data, and interrogate them further by forcing them into one of the additional 'surveys'.
Kylie, 9 December 2020
The cost of data storage, data linking, data mining, and data analysis became very low, so there is no reason why data-hungry governments and corporations would not want to keep everything they can get their hands on. I doubt many still believe that the information they give to census, post on facebook, enter to innumerous MyWhaterver accounts, etc etc etc will be irrevocably deleted at some promised point in the future.
Dev, Australia, 30 December 2020
Another thought... They say their interviewers will 'show you their official ABS photo identification'. But how are we supposed to know what it should look like? And even then, how can we tell it's not a fake? Every time someone wants my identity info when I didn't ask them for any service, my attitude is always 'scammer until proven otherwise' and 'get off my property'. This is the only way to avoid being swindled.
Kylie, 30 December 2020
A piece of advice: lock your mailboxes! And also make sure that the shape of your mailbox doesn't allow perpetrators to read names off the envelopes inside by peeking through the slot.
Months ago my house was picked for one of those incredibly invasive surveys the ABS runs between censuses. The level of personal information it demanded was far beyond what I am prepared to share, and definitely far beyond anything that calls itself "statistics". I simply couldn't bring myself to participate in that. So I ignored all those letters addressed to the Resident, after all that's not my name. It is possible that the ABS came to my door at some point - that I don't know. I work long hours, so any door knocker is likely to get no response. But I've just returned from my long break and Xmas holidays and my neighbours told me that a while ago they saw someone looking inside my mailbox. The person left hastily and without a word when my neighbours came out. Could that have been ABS survey collector trying to get my name off my mail? I imagine they would very much like to have it for the purpose of sending me threats and fines for my attempts to defend my privacy. If the next letter from the ABS suddenly bear my name instead of the usual Resident, I certainly won't believe that it was a coincidence. While there is no certainty that it was ABS staff engaging in a criminal activity (tampering or interfering with mail or letterbox is a felony AFAIK), I will be locking the box from now on.
Anonymous, 31 December 2020
The heinous thing is that there was a consulting company (Galexia) engaged to provide an independent privacy impact assessment (PIA) of the upcoming 2021 Census. They concluded that the proposed 2021 Census was not fully compliant with the Australian Privacy Principles. And they did not like the current retention of names and addresses. Their advice was to 'review and significantly reduce' all that. This was highlighted in red in their report: 'The long-term retention of names and addresses presents an unacceptable level of privacy and security risk for the Census, and may undermine other privacy measures'. They were also against using the data from multiple census collections in longitudinal studies, and the current prosecution process for refusing to complete the census. Did the ABS take any of that on board? Nope! Those findings and recommendations were ignored and dumped down the sewer together with taxpayer money spent on it. But now the ABS can say that they did conduct a rigorous privacy impact assessment.
Anonymous, 14 January 2021
I wonder when the world is going to wake up to the fact that most of privacy breach disasters and massive identity thefts happen not because hackers and criminals have some break-through technology or magic superpowers, but because the so-called legitimate entities like governments and private enterprises collect excessive and unnecessary data and then can't keep it safe.
Anonymous, 3 February 2021
2021 will truly be the year we lost the remnants of our privacy. Not only are we about to get the most invasive census ever, but now our political bloodsuckers are talking about introducing covid vaccination certificates tied to medicare app that will be mandated for travels, work and visiting various venues. Seriously??! Will we be forced to install that shitty app, subscribe to mygov account and show our personal data and medical records wherever we go??
Anonymous, 7 February 2021
Exactly! Civil liberties are becoming extinct. This pandemic has been an absolute bonanza for government agencies craving population control. Until 2020 they could only encroach on personal freedoms, rights and privacy under the guise of fighting terrorism, which was quite difficult to apply to the whole population. But now they can restrict anyone in any way they like, force us to be injected with whatever they deem necessary and to carry some biological identification around like in a dystopian novel. As Big Brother Watch said, it is a road to an oppressive digital ID system and health apartheid, totally incompatible with a free and democratic country. Medical records will be tied to everyone's work and travel, and our biometric data will be collected, held and checked by a multitude of authorities and bureaucrats. 'This dangerous plan would normalise identity checks, increase state control over law-abiding citizens and create a honeypot for cybercriminals.'
Kylie, 8 February 2021
Something is telling me that even if we submit to these vaccine certificate checks, we still won't be able to travel as freely as before. This is just going to be yet another step towards normalising frequent and ongoing personal data collection and monitoring of every individual at all times.
The ABS must be having a celebration party: nobody will be able to travel overseas to escape their census, and everyone's personal data will also be entered into to the Australian Immunisation Register, which no doubt the ABS will get access to as well, and which in 2016 has 'conveniently' been expanded from just childhood vaccinations to hold data about all people of all ages.
Kylie, 8 February 2021
I think it's time to start a petition Australia-wide and publicise it.
Anonymous, 16 February 2021
Folk, be wary of their surveys that run for many months. Initially those are presented like they are going to ask same questions over something like 8 months. But that's not true. In my case at least the subsequent survey asked much more personal info than in the beginning. It got to the point where I absolutely didn't want to continue. By that stage it was too late because the ABS already made me give them my name, date of birth, mobile number and more. Big mistake, I know! I stupidly didn't do my research before getting into this $#@%. When it got too intrusive I told them my concerns to which they replied that I have no choice and must cooperate! Luckily I was renting. The survey is tied to the household address, so once you're out of that house, they're out of luck. So I terminated my lease and moved out. Hugely inconvenient, but hey, privacy doesn't come cheap these days. I rather pay for moving house than pay ABS fines or deal with those privacy invaders in court. (._.)
Anonymous, 19 February 2021
My "household" has been "randomly" selected to do a survey. I have received letters pressing me to register or phone them up to organise an interview in my home. I have not done so because in their letters they said they will send out someone to conduct the interview. I prefer that option. I do not trust to call them enough to leave them my identifying information for them to get back to me to organise the interview.
I feel this is a gross invasion of privacy and it is clear they are keeping a dossier. How does that make our government any different from the fascists who used Gestapo, or the Stasi?
I feel it's ironic that they want to invade my home holding a legislative gun to my head and are demanding me to answer anything they have a fancy to ask (they said they'd be asking me wide ranging questions about my life and thoughts) in respect to their survey. It sounds like a fishing expedition and interrogation. They are causing me much stress.
Why can't they send a questionnaire? Why do I need to tell someone private information that they might use themselves or relay to people who have nothing to do with the ABS?
This is a shocking assault on democracy and privacy. It is a heinous abuse of power. I will never trust government or politicians ever. They treat people like peons that can be kicked about at will.
Anonymous, 25 February 2021
Funny how the politicians always wax lyrical about our "democracy", but always inflict the most autocratic institutions on the people who voted them in. The ABS is one such institution. I don't think its current operation is consistent with democracy or privacy.
Anonymous, 9 March 2021
Census excuse for name and address collection "To ensure that no household is missed in the census" doesn't apply to household surveys. In surveys, ABS specially targets the "randomly" chosen households and knows full well if any are missing. The only reason why ABS wants to obtain your name or date of birth in its survey is to access more of your data in other places, such as your medical record, ATO file, Centrelink account, children school record, Medicare, and then combine the data from multiple sources into one dossier on you.
Anonymous, 14 March 2021
This is only happening to us because we let it! If every person who values their privacy wrote about this to their MP, sent an objection to ABS, complained to any other relevant authorities, shared their views on social media, or a least supported privacy advocates, we would get our privacy back in no time! If millions tell ABS to get the f*** out of their personal lives, ABS won't have a leg to stand on and tell lies that Australians support such increasingly invasive practices and are thrilled to be continuously stripped of their privacy in the name of some lousy statistics.
Anonymous, 19 April 2021
What really shits me the most in this situation is not even the evil ABS, but the sheeple who naively believe that mass surveillance and 'big data' is going to be used only for their benefit. Those who stupidly buy into any intrusion of their lives under the ubiquitous bullshit pretexts of 'protecting children' and 'fighting terrorism'. Those who call us paranoid because otherwise they would have to admit their own gullibility. Those who say that 'the government already has all the data' (yeah, 'all'? really? then why is it asking for more??). Those who think that everyone puts all their personal life 'out there' in the social media anyway, so there is no point in protecting anything.
But of course those sheeple don't get it that everyone has a choice to use, avoid, or ditch the social media, but we have zero choice in what data ABS collects and what it does with it. You don't have to sign up for Facebook or any other social media crap-trap, you don't have to drive a car and have a driver license, you don't have to get a passport, you can ditch Medicare, etc, etc, but there are two institutions that think they own us and our data til we die, the AEC and the ABS.
Chris, 1 June 2021
All that the ABS promises about the privacy of our data today is worthless tomorrow if they change the scope of their activities again.
Nabil, 6 June 2021
Actually... that's where the ruling ****s have been very clever. To my knowledge, a sizeable percentage of Australians stopped using public, welfare and health services due to privacy ramifications. Medical help, prescription medications, centrelink subsidies, disability assistance, domestic issues, abuse, violence, addictions, sexual and mental health... Many no longer want to seek help for these, knowing that nothing is private or confidential anymore. Any part of sensitive information can be linked, aggregated with data from other sources, compiled into a personal file, and shared with a plethora of paper pushers, dubious institutions and shady agencies. In the scale of the whole country that's billions of dollars given up by the population "voluntarily", for the hypocrites in power to spend on their own political games instead of the well-being of the nation. It's a win-win for them: they get to grab our data, or our money, or both, for doing absolutely nothing except threatening people with courts and criminal records if someone doesn't comply.
Anonymous, 7 June 2021
The government already knows how many voting adults, school children, aged people, hospital patients and road traffic are in each area without any census. Why then do we have traffic congestion, health care cuts, and a joke of an education system? Census has been completely perverted from its original purpose. It is not to improve anything, it is to cross-reference everyone's personal data. As already has been said many times over, if it really was for statistics only, nobody would be asking names, addresses and dates of birth.
Greg, 13 July 2021
Every stupid, backward, short-sighted, unsustainable or disgraceful political decision this country has ever produced, was made NOT due to lack of data. It was made because such was someone's move in a political game. Decisions that are made having nothing else but the well-being and the sustainable future of the country at heart can't be so idiotic even with minimal data on hand.
Anonymous, 26 July 2021
C'mon ATO, give us a break! Everybody already knows that infrastructure isn't built and resources aren't allocated based on where people live or happened to be on a random night. The allocation is based on where a major political party wants more votes to gain or retain a seat!
Sunny, 27 July 2021
I would enthusiastically complete the census because I wish to assist my nation, and data is critical to decision making. I have only one very reasonable condition - that my personal identification (name, address, DOB and phone) is not retained. I don't trust Governments not to misuse this, as they already have introduced so many other draconian attacks on our privacy.
I will not allow ABS to have my name and address under any circumstances.
In 2016 the Census caused grief in my home and it will be the same this year. My partner also hates the compulsion to give the ABS personal details, but sees no alternative. She won't risk prosecution. So I insist that I don't appear on "her" census. This means lying which is intolerable to her, whereas my existence on the census in this form is intolerable to me. Thanks ABS for that shitfight!
Peter, 28 July 2021
Do not do it online. They will be collecting MAC and IP addresses, and other computer information. They have proven themselves as dishonest. That is the name and rules of the game that they set.
Anonymous, 31 July 2021
It seems the ABS recruited over 20 thousand field staff for this census. Mighty sad to see where our tax money go! But even more disappointing is to know that amongst us there are over 20K Judas or naive idiots who swallowed the ABS BS "we want to recruit motivated people who are keen to tell their community's story through the successful collection of Census data". Now we know what Stasi were doing. They were telling their community's story! Facepalm.
Anonymous, 1 August 2021
The cost of Australian census is staggering $300 millions! The govt should to get rid of it, use the existing more relevant and less intrusive data sources, and spend the saved money on actually improving at least some of those vital services and infrastructure instead of feeding the parasitic ABS.
Vicky, 2 August 2021
Although the ABS says it is not sharing personal identifiable information and deletes names and addresses after a few years, they do create unique identifiers for everyone and link the census data with other databases on an individual level, such as ATO tax files, medical records, Centrelink, etc. And that linked information is never destroyed as far as I know. So how can anyone believe that this information is forever secure from hackers or from future government misuse?
Anonymous, 2 August 2021
This is ridiculous and we are totally sick of it! It is impossible to order a paper census form online, report a house as unoccupied address, or get a census number for filling it online without giving the ABS a mobile phone number. And they demand that it has to be an Australian mobile phone number, so it can be traced to your ID. Under no circumstances are we giving them our phones. If they give us no other option, they can stick their census up their ***.
Anonymous, 3 August 2021
Instead of requesting the census form online, dial their 1800 number (do it from a silent number (PSTN, not NBN) or Telstra payphone). It does not ask for any information other than what is already on the letter you received. No phone numbers or email required.
Names and date of birth are not statistical information. So I choose to be "Person One" or "A Resident" or... Give them an age without date of birth, or be away from the dwelling Tuesday night, and honest with all other answers - other than name and d.o.b. - they already have the residential address.
I'd love to know how they think they can get access now into apartments and gated communities that require some security access to enter (swipe card). I suspect a lot of folks in those will just ignore any demands.
Anonymous, 5 August 2021
I noticed that the 2021 paper census forms have a serial number and some bar coding, password, etc. It is recorded by the delivering field people which form is dropped at which address. They do not really need your name on it. A check of any address database (licences, rates, utilities) will pinpoint most citizens.
Anonymous, 6 August 2021
I used to work for the ABS and this article is the biggest load of rubbish I've ever read. The ABS has no regulatory function and zero interest in individuals, only data points and how they change over time. Privacy protections are incredibly strong and I'm aware of instances where data has been requested from law enforcement entities and not once has it been supplied. If you're really concerned for your privacy you'd be better spending your time closing your Google and Facebook accounts than reading this conspiracy-theorist diatribe.
Anonymous, 8 August 2021
@ the Anonymous comment above who claims to be ex-ABS:
"...the biggest load of rubbish ever read" - Are you sure? Clearly you don't read much. And if it is such rubbish, how did you land here? Not by googling something like "privacy problems with Australian census" per any chance?
"The ABS has... zero interest in individuals" - Are you sure again? Then why does it want to grab everyone's name, date of birth, and exact address?
This is what's really annoying in every discussion about privacy: the sheeple who have no concept of privacy, and/or the trolls who claim to work for/used to work for/know someone who worked for the ABS/some other privacy-intruding agency, crawling about and telling everyone that Google/Facebook/Microsoft/some other social media or corporation knows more about everyone than the ABS/government. If so, then why doesn't it just get all that data from Google or Facebook for a fraction of the cost instead of spending $300000000 on an army of tax-wasters like you?
If you really have ever worked for the ABS, you must have been a perfect employee for them: clueless, lying, dismissive of valid concerns of the citizens, and having no respect for privacy. When you find a Facebook or Google account in my name, or of those who share the concerns of the author of this page, then you can come back and spew your BS here.
Peter, 9 August 2021
The 'how did you get to work on Tuesday 10 August 2021' question in this census... Half of this country is in covid lockdown or forced to work from home! If they use this census for planning public transport, we will have no public transport anymore. What a pointless waste of taxpayer money and time.
Anonymous, 9 August 2021
I'd be fine with doing the census IF it was truly anonymous, IF it was truly for helping the government to provide better services. But sadly that's no longer the case. I am vehemently opposed to their cross-referencing and collating my data between multiple agencies.
Anonymous, 9 August 2021
Thank you for this article on privacy issues with the Census. It came up on a Google search I did to see if there was any commentary on the lack of anonymity of the Census. I was particularly concerned as the Census asks for sensitive personal health information this year, which to me is a breach of my right to privacy on these matters. I can't really understand that more people aren't making a fuss about this — possibly because we are in the midst of a global pandemic! I've made as much fuss as I can — I had a letter published in today's Sydney Melbourne Herald, have made a complaint about the Census on the Privacy Commission website and contacted my local federal member.
"This year's census goes too far. When did it become OK for an Australian government to compel its citizens to divulge personal health issues? I have no problem providing general information for statistical purposes. But to demand personal health information through the census where it is identifiable is abhorrent and a breach of my natural, and probably legal, right to privacy on these matters. We employ and pay the Australian Bureau of Statistics and in return for our compliance and goodwill towards the census process we deserve respect. Instead, there is mission creep under cover of a pandemic, a lack of respect for our personal privacy and a demand for blind trust that this information will be managed appropriately. I hope the census gets the responses that it deserves."
Jennifer, 10 August 2021
This ABS page www.abs.gov.au/statistics/research/using-administrative-data-fill-potential-data-gaps-census says that they intend to use Tax, Medicare and Centrelink and 2016 Census data to "fill potential data gaps in the census". It says:
"The first step to filling any gaps would be to find any records from the combined registrations of Tax, Medicare and Centrelink administration systems that appear to be missing from the Census. ... The next step would be to fill in further Census information for these records using both administrative data and 2016 Census data where possible. For example, we may be able to identify family relationships from Centrelink and Medicare records, and/or fill in information from the 2016 Census that wouldn’t have changed over time, such as Country of Birth."
Not only is it alarming that the ABS got its hands on our personal files in every government department, but the main question is how are they planning to attach the 2016 census data to those records if they promised to delete all names and addresses from the 2016 census within 18-36 months after August 2016??
If the ABS are going to do it by guessing, then they should stop snooping in our personal ATO, Medicare and Centrelink records. And if they can match the data by identifying each person with certainty, then it was a blatant lie that they deleted all the identifying data from the previous census!
Anonymous, 10 August 2021
It is a good point indeed. Thank you for sharing this information.
Those rabid defenders of the totalitarian state and fanatics of big data who just love repeating their mantra, 'shut up, obey, and fill the census, because google knows more about you...', have no idea how stupid this comparison is. Google isn't forcing anyone to use it, nor does it threaten anyone with a $222 fine for every day you refuse to create a Google account and give them your personal data. The ABS does, and that's the problem.
Anonymous, 10 August 2021
For their census privacy invasion operation the ABS temporarily employs over thirty thousands of random folk who are willing to participate in this mass assault for a bit of extra cash. So there is zero chance that absolutely all of them are trustworthy. It is a statistical impossibility. Pun intended! A pre-employment ID and police check doesn't tell you that someone isn't a criminal, only that they haven't been caught yet. For all we know, they can be passing our personal data to fraudsters.
Anonymous, 11 August 2021
My childhood and youth were filled with stories from my grandparents about how terrible it eventually became for so many people in the 1930's in Germany.
They told me it started step by step, bit by bit, and most people just accepted it.
Until it was too late.
Anonymous, 16 August 2021
Scandinavian countries have abolished their census, the UK is getting rid of it, the US too... What does Australia do? Of course it's not going to follow the developed world! Instead, it is linking the census to personal data held by ATO, Centrelink, Medicare and other government repositories to "increase its value", i.e. to keep Australian population under total surveillance.
George, 17 August 2021
My advice to everyone. If you've been "selected" by the ABS for one of their household surveys, DON'T DO IT ONLINE!!!
Do it either by calling their 1800 phone number assigned to that survey, or via a face-to-face interview, but don't let their interviewer into your house, and never ever give them your name, phone number or email address.
If you do it online,
a. you will have to create an ABS online account, and your email address and mobile phone number are mandatory for that.
b. you will make it easier and cheaper for them. This will NOT save your tax money as you might have hoped. It will instead give the ABS extra funds for doing more of these surveys and invading your privacy more frequently and more intensively. Just look how they ramped it up in the last 15 years.
Since this deplorable organisation keeps disregarding all the negative feedback and complaints from the public, it must be denied every opportunity to expand their assault on our privacy.
Anonymous, 20 August 2021
Them saying that mobile number is mandatory or that I *must* do a survey online shits me beyond belief! Or telling to call a 13 number - those aren't free either!
The ABS doesn't pay for my phone, nor would it pay for my Internet data usage. It's bad enough that they waste my time, live off my taxes, and invade my privacy. They are not getting a cent from my personal budget!!!
Anonymous, 29 August 2021
This Bureau of Personal Life Invasion and Privacy Violation (apparently in Australia it's called "statistics"!) is by far the most evil organisation in our country. Especially their household surveys.
Just think about it: nobody else can just barge into your personal life and under threats of massive fines and imprisonment compel you to answer invasive questions about your private affairs, family relationships, daily life, money and health. If anyone else attempted to do that, you would be using self defence and calling the police, but somehow this evil ABS is allowed to do whatever they want.
Oliver, 1 September 2021
It's interesting that the fine for not voting at a compulsory election is about $20. And of course there is no fine for informal votes because each vote has real privacy, not ABS-style "privacy". At the same time, the fine for not completing a census is $222 per day, and $2220 for providing false or misleading info. The disparity in the treatment of these two apparently crucial societal elements should set alarm bells ringing. Which is more important: deciding who runs the country or putting everyone under surveillance?
Chloe, NSW Australia, 12 September 2021
I left a message earlier regarding my concerns about the compulsion to complete sensitive health questions in this year's Census. I had a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald, and also approached my local member and made a complaint to the Office of the Australian Information (Privacy) Commissioner. The responses have been disappointing and concerning. The OAIC have sent me a letter offering me "Early Resolution" saying that my privacy has not been breached according to the law as it stands at the moment, and advising me that it is the Commissioner's intention to close my case unless I respond further. Will I what! It totally fails the reasonable person test, or pub test, that an official letter from a government body can say in all seriousness "you are obliged by law to provide personal health information but in our view this is not an interference with your privacy as defined by the Act". The legal basis for this view is the 1905 Census and Statistics Act, and some very dodgy regulations that completely ignored that the rather more recent privacy legislation in 1988, and likely the Privacy Impact Assessment that took place at the time. The OAIC is behaving as a mouthpiece for government rather than the independent body it purports to be. I have read through all the comments on this wonderful blog, and they paint a very sorry picture of the way this country is heading, including some really harrowing personal tales of harassment by the ABS. This has to change. Please keep blogging — it is a powerful tool. More later...
Jennifer, 22 September 2021
Thank you for being an active and responsible citizen, for contacting your MP, sending a letter to a newspaper, and complaining to the OAIC. If a change to the better is possible in this allegedly democratic country, it can only be achieved if enough people do the same. Unfortunately you are right, the OAIC reply was less than satisfactory: it essentially states that the ABS can collect any information they like, on a compulsory basis, because the ABS website says so. It presents the ABS as a law unto themselves, as someone mentioned here earlier, which is very concerning, especially considering the powers that organisation has been given and the ways those powers have been used in recent years.
I am wondering if others notice the pathetic bits of statistics accompanying some news stories. I don't know if other TV channels do it as well, but the ABC news definitely show those sometimes. Those are usually some pointless numbers, for example something like "during the pandemic people exercise 20% less" with a note at the bottom "source: ABS.gov.au". Absolutely useless, just like measuring the average body temperature of hospital patients: some may have terrible fever and some may be dead, but it can average to a healthy 36.5C. Same with exercise during the pandemic: some people had less work and more time and weren't completely locked down, so they could exercise more, and others couldn't get to their gym or swimming pool, so they exercised less.
My guess is that these news story statistics are a pathetic attempt of the ABS to advertise itself and pretend they are doing something for the community. But in reality these numbers are of no practical use to anyone. I am actually thinking about contacting the ABC and telling them that seeing these statistics is disturbing, because behind every one of those useless numbers are huge taxpayer funds and thousands of people's lives that the ABS barged into and violated their privacy by demanding that the people fill the compulsory household surveys.
Anonymous, 23 September 2021
Good job Jennifer! The OAIC does appear to be worse than useless, but I am of the opinion that people should be writing to their MP and other relevant ministers. That is how democracy designed to work. Members of Parliament are elected to listen to their constituents and to relay their concerns to Parliament. It is especially important because the Parliament is supposed to approve all changes to the Census. And those Census health questions you are battling against have been approved by the Parliament too. If enough people complain to their local representatives, hopefully the ABS will get the message, and also hopefully get their funding cut, because they clearly use the funds for expanding data collection, linking and storage with every subsequent Census. It is an insult that taxpayers are paying for the violation of their own privacy. Instead of cutting funds to healthcare and environment conservation, they should cut the ABS.
The ABS may be saying that the new health questions are the first significant changes to the information collected in the Census since 2006, but that's an evasive representation. It may be the biggest change in the visible part of the Census, but there have been massive changes behind the scenes, in how the ABS began retaining names and addresses, accessing personal data held by other government departments, and linking that data to your census responses. These changes are much more significant, and much more destructive to privacy.
And then let's not forget about the ABS Household Surveys. While unlike the Census they don't affect every person in Australia (the ABS usually chooses tens of thousands of people for each of these surveys), they can be much more invasive, can run for many months and ask much more intrusive personal questions of their unfortunate participants. We only have the ABS word (as if anyone would believe it anymore!) that the people for those surveys are selected randomly. It could easily be a targeted interrogation, and it does not have the Parliament approval.
Elizabeth, 26 September 2021
The Australian Bureau of
Privacy ViolationsStatistics must be thinking that announcing their continually expanding privacy invasions on their web site makes it ok and constitutes lawfulness and transparency. Telling everyone on a website about a planned assault on someone's life or privacy doesn't make it ok! Many mass murderers post their intentions online before committing their acts, and they get shot or imprisoned for life. But when the ABS acts in the same way, people must comply and cannot defend their privacy, because the ABS is using powers given to it by an ancient Act of law while doing things way beyond what that law could foresee all those years ago. First they decided to keep your name and address, then they decided to trawl through your tax and medical records, then they decided to link it all in one big file on you, and they keep going. This mission creep is astounding! Imagine if a stranger intruded and demanded your financial data, medical information and to know who you live with -- that's what the ABS do in some of their surveys. You would be calling cops and reporting an assault on the privacy of your personal and domestic life! But when the ABS does the same, you become the one who can get imprisoned if you don't obey and do as you're told.
Zack P., 27 September 2021
I had the dubious pleasure of receiving a Post Census Review letter, requiring me to call up and undertake a 'followup' survey. Most of the questions were a subset of the census questions (name, relationship to me, gender, dob, marital status, country of origin, whether Aboriginal/Torres Strait Island origin).
There was one question that I declined to answer for myself and my family: "will <insert name> be at <insert residential address> tonight?" I don't know Old Mate Survey Monkey on the other end of the phone and there's no way I'm giving up that statistically irrelevant information.
Anonymous, 29 September 2021
I complained to the OAIC (Privacy Commission) that the health questions in this year's census breached the Australian privacy law, which declares health matters to be sensitive personal information, and as such cannot be collected without the individual's consent, subject to certain exemptions to allow for specific circumstances, such as the individual being an illegal migrant, a criminal, unconscious or dead. Their response? The ABS introduced the new questions by way of a law passed by Parliament, the Privacy Act says a law constitutes an exemption, therefore the ABS is exempt. So this body that is supposed to protect our privacy under the Australian privacy law has basically rejected a valid complaint on a technicality. As the Australian Privacy Foundation has told me, since 2004 the OAIC has acted solely as a protector of government agencies and business, not of people's privacy. Wherever they can see a way to support privacy invasions, they do so. Wherever they can see a way to reject complaints, they do so. And wherever they're forced to find against an agency or a corporation, they avoid anything like a meaningful fine. How many of our tax dollars is this toothless tiger costing us each year, I wonder?
Jennifer, 20 October 2021
Jennifer, my experience with the OAIC was similar to yours. I was left with a very strong impression that they are there to excuse and defend the privacy abuse perpetrated by the government and the big business. Ordinary people are merely the source of data and funds for that Office.
It doesn't mean however that we should give up the fight. I will be writing to politicians from now on. They always pretend to be very interested in hearing our concerns before each election. We shall give them that chance and write about the mission creep in the ABS, about the ongoing invasion of privacy by state governments under the guise of pandemic, about the insufficient and watered down legal protections of privacy, about the inadequacy of the OAIC... I will also be using every chance to leave comments on various web sites and social media. Many people haven't thought about these problems, but get shocked once their eyes are opened.
Elizabeth, 27 October 2021
If you haven't given them your name or the name of anyone in your household, how would they be able to fine anyone?
If they don't have the name of the liable party, they can't issue a fine "to the householder" or drag "the resident" to court. And if they do have the name, they are breaking the law that prohibits using the data held by the ABS for prosecution.
Anonymous, 14 January 2022
ABS love to emphasise that they are not releasing our personal data to other parties. But that's of little consolation to anyone. Secret police and intelligence don't exactly publish their findings either, and yet nobody would be ok with that mob compiling a file on them.
Anonymous, 29 January 2022
Ok so they say that this collection, acumination and linking of personal information is necessary for aiding government policy. What a load of bulldust!
The only progressive change Australia has had in recent years was marriage equality. And that was ultimately decided by the plebiscite, not by any "statistics". Everything else has been bad and backward: killing the Reef, destroying the environment, protecting coal and mining, and passing the atrocities like the Identify and Disrupt Bill courtesy Peter Dutton's department, which I'm sure the next government, even if Labor win the election, wont scrap. Because the main policy of both sides of our government has ben this: if something is very unpopular, just rename it and keep doing it. And I bet they didn't need any "statistics" to come up with this strategy.
Jimmi, 11 February 2022
"Necessary for aiding government policy..." - Which policy? When? What good and useful has come out of this assault on our privacy? Like this intrusive national health survey that they have been running for years. What good has that done? What has been improved or optimised?
Has Australian healthcare system got any better? - Nope!
Do we have to pay less for Medicare? - Nope! Only more.
Have the surgery queues in public hospitals become shorter? - Nope! Only longer.
Has the waiting time in emergency rooms got any better? - Nope! People have to wait there for hours in agony until their appendix bursts and they nearly die.
All that it has achieved is the government having a thicker file on each of us.
Peter, 16 February 2022
What a joke! The latest ABS media release says that 1 in 9 Australians experienced personal fraud in 2020-21. This is based on their 2020-21 Personal Fraud Survey. And the biggest increase has apparently been in information and identity theft scams.
It's a pity the ABS and the government don't want to ask themselves, why would that be.
I can spare them another survey, and answer: because Australians have been groomed, conditioned and terrorised by the institutions like the ABS into giving out their personal data. Because the ABS threatens people with fines and courts if they attempt to stand up for their privacy and safety. This made scammers' job super easy: just pretend to be some government department and the person will be too afraid to say "no". That's why we now have a situation where frightened people surrender their data without much thought or resistance.
Ironically, to get the statistics for this media release, allegedly to bring public attention to personal data theft, the ABS had to coerce thousands of people into giving out their personal data. Privacy protection Australian style!
Peter, 27 March 2022
Actually, the ABS's data linking activities are an outrageous attack on Australian democracy! Look at their description of Person Linkage Spine:
"The ABS has developed the Person Linkage Spine (the 'Spine') to efficiently and effectively combine person-centred administrative datasets to create a comprehensive picture of Australia over time.
"As there is no single unique identifier for Australians across government datasets, commonwealth and state data must be brought together using data integration methods. The ABS has developed the Spine as an enduring piece of data linking infrastructure that is the core of the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) data asset.
"The Spine aims to broadly cover all people who were residents in Australia from 2006 onwards by integrating information from three core datasets: Medicare Consumer Directory (MCD), Social Security & Related Information (SSRI) and Personal Income Tax (PIT).
"To maintain the quality and relevance of the Spine and data integration projects over time, the Spine needs to be updated to incorporate additional years of data for the core datasets."
Through their democratically elected representatives in parliament, Australian citizens voted against Australia Card in 1986, because they were against such whole-of-life spying, global data matching and linking. What our allegedly democratic government does now? Lets the ABS create a "statistical" identifier for each Australian and link all the personal data together.
Peter, 11 April 2022
It's a good point about Australia Card. It, and several similar proposals, have been repeatedly rejected by Australians because the public didn't want their privacy violated and their personal information shared, cross-checked and combined by various arms of the government. Unfortunately, it is being done, despite the strong objections. Which means than not only does Australia have no federal acts guaranteeing protections for freedom of speech and human rights, there is no respect for democratically expressed will of its people either.
Here we go again, now the ABS wants to get our household's most private information of all - the health information! We've been 'randomly selected' for their most intrusive National Health Survey. They lull people into participation by cunningly saying that providing the names for the survey is voluntary. But it's all fake promises, because:
1. Mobile phone number is mandatory for creating online ABS survey account. And in Australia mobile phone number = ID. You should remember how you had to give your photo ID when you were getting your phone number. That's why!
2. The ABS now openly admits that they are linking all survey and census data with the data about you from Medicare, Centrelink and Tax, as well as the data from education institutions and employers. They call it 'data integration', and it's pure evil Stasi style.
ABS, ATO, Dept of Education Skills & Employment, Dept of Health, Dept of Social Services and Services Australia are all in cahoots in keeping tabs on you every minute of your life! But don't ya worry, they say, 'the ABS respects your right to privacy and is committed to keeping your information safe and secure in all of the data integration projects.'
Thank you very much! Was my gran risking her life escaping Stasi to see us now being under surveillance by the Australian version of Stasi? Only this one is much worse, because these days they have much more powerful data-matching technology.
Had this survey been truly anonymous, without demands for a mobile phone number, and without this evil matching of all my personal data, I would have participated and answered all questions honestly.
But since the ABS chose to act as Stasi, we are off for a very long overseas stay. Because the only safe data is the data that hasn't been shared with anyone!
O., 26 April 2022
Does this mean that the only way to have real privacy in Australia is to have no permanent address, unenroll from Medicare, never use Centrelink, and simultaneously have income below $18K taxable threshold???
Anonymous, 27 April 2022
Pretty much. Which the government knows is nearly impossible, unless you want to become destitute and homeless. That's why this system has been set up in such a way.
We chose a more pleasant way, to get out of this country. An added benefit would be that we will be paying tax to another country. Which means we won't be feeding the ABS.
O., 27 April 2022
The ABS is peddling the same pretext: we need the health survey to help Australians live longer and healthier lives, to make sure health services and programs are available to those in need, and to assess current policies to help prevent illness, blah blah blah...
Want to know the current state of medical services? No need to barge into anyone's private life. Just ask at any public hospital how long people have to queue for a surgery or wait in the emergency room.
Want to know the reason why people don't want to see a doctor, why they delay with the diagnosis, and why they refuse to participate in disease screening? I can tell that without any survey: it's PRIVACY CONCERNS! Because what's going on in the medical settings is reported to Medicare. And what Medicare knows ends up shared with the ABS spies. This relentless hunt for people's health data is killing them, not helping them.
The government would never say this, but the truth is that the best economic outcome for the country is when people die once they reach the retirement age. And the ABS is aiding in this very well. Perhaps that's why the government gives it more invasive powers every year.
Peter, 3 May 2022
Yep, they call it Multi-Agency Data Integration Project, or MADIP. Very appropriately, as it's totally MAD. It's a complete comprehensive dossier on every person who has been a resident in Australia at any time since 2006 - the year when the ABS decided that they can do whatever they like with our personal data.
According to the ABS's own description, "MADIP is a secure data asset combining information on health, education, government payments, income and taxation, employment, and population demographics (including the Census) over time. It provides whole-of-life insights about various population groups in Australia, such as the interactions between their characteristics, use of services like healthcare and education, and outcomes like improved health and employment."
So, yes, it's kinda, "We've got all your private data, and we want more, all the time! We have grabbed what we could from other agencies. And what we couldn't get there, we will get from you by forcing you to complete the census and the compulsory household surveys. If you don't give us your data whenever we demand it, you will be fined and may go to prison. But apart from that, we are a wonderful and trustworthy organisation that promises to keep your data secure and to never abuse it. Although we continue keep schtum about what we're going to do and who is going to be *personally* responsible when hackers get it, or when the government passes a new legislation that would allow abuse of this data."
Anonymous, 14 June 2022
Thanks for the excellent article.
It's good to see quite a few people writing about this. And hopefully we'll see more in the future because "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Steve, 19 June 2022
Thank you. I agree that it is important to openly discuss one's concerns about such disturbing trends. However, to act is even more important, as it has become perfectly clear that the ABS have no intention to curtail their activities in personal data accumulation and linking. Their actions since the 2000s reveal the exact opposite.
Unfortunately, complaining to the ABS has proved a futile exercise. I am not aware of a single such complaint that has led to any constructive outcome (if at least one reader is aware of it, please do share your experience).
If Australia still is a truly democratic country, people still have two avenues for expressing their will and having their concerns addressed:
1. Contact your local member of parliament and let them know about your grievances with the ABS. If your MP is from one of the two major parties, you will most likely get a formulaic fob-off response or no response at all, because neither the Australian Labor Party nor the Liberal Party of Australia have privacy protection in their policies and agendas. But if enough people make similar complaints, the issue will eventually gain recognition.
2. Vote for smaller parties and independents who have genuine and serious interests in safeguarding our privacy and in ensuring our rights and legal means to defend it.
The obstinacy of the ABS is mind boggling. People refuse and complain. Privacy advocates condemn and protest. Their ex-chief criticises their current practices. The independent assessment findings tell them that what they are doing is wrong. But the ABS don't care. They are unstoppable like a mad dictator. And like any rising dictator, they are also cunning. They know that the majority of Australians are naive and lazy, like frogs in a boiling pot. So the ABS choose their words carefully. They say they have done the privacy impact assessment (luckily for them, very few actually read what it says) and keep abusing Australian population. Worse even, they regularly come up with new ideas on how to rape our privacy more severely, more thoroughly, and more often.
Emily, 1 July 2022
So in the past the statistical ***s had the power of compulsion because they didn't have access to our info in other places. Therefore they needed a way to make sure that everyone fills their census.
Now in the present they are snooping on us in every data repository they can get their hands on. But they kept the extortion powers.
F*** disgrace what this country is allowing to be done to its people.
Anonymous, 6 July 2022
ABS has totally squandered public support including mine. I stopped trusting them in 2016 and I will never trust them again.
D., 27 July 2022
It's time Australians began voting for the parties and independents who are serious about privacy protections! Of course the lower house is hopeless, same old same LIB<=>LAB, both supporting the worsening situation with privacy violation and mass surveillance. But in the Senate there is still hope.
People please! don't be lazy before each election. Go to each candidate or party site, open the 'policies' page and search for the word 'privacy'. It's super quick and easy to do this online. You don't even have to lift your bum off the couch. Just take a bit of time, do your research, and vote for the candidates who truly stand for your rights, freedoms and privacy. Your and your children's future is at stake!
Ali, 8 September 2022
The expansion of ABS data collection and linking means one of two things:
• Either they are taking more of our tax money to pay for this expansion.
• Or they are getting the funds themselves. In this case guess what they have to sell.
Anonymous, 13 October 2022
Just a thought. Since the Australian Politburo of Statistics claims that all their privacy-invasive atrocities get approved and welcomed through "extensive community consultations", why don't they consult the community properly? Instead of asking the select few, why don't they include one more question into the next census, "Do you agree that your personally identifiable information will be kept by the ABS indefinitely; that your answers will be linked from census to census; that the ABS can access, harvest and link your private data held by various government departments and other third parties, including your health records; and that you can be subject to further privacy invasion and compulsory interrogations via additional ABS household surveys?". Answer: "YES/NO". Then we will see whether it's just the small percentage of vigilant clear-thinking Australians who are against the current ABS practices, or the wider Australian community also disagrees with this abominable trend.
S., 12 November 2022
That's a good idea. An excellent way of applying the hackneyed "if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to fear" argument back to the government, for the benefit of the ordinary people. Why indeed has it only ever been applied to the people by the governments? Besides, what can be more fair and democratic than to ask every person?
Of course, those who benefit from the invasion of people's privacy would retaliate that most people are also likely to say that they don't want to pay taxes either, if asked. But that's not a valid counterargument, because:
1. Taxes are critically necessary for the functioning of the state, whereas the continuously increasing privacy intrusions are not. There are plenty of safe, prosperous, developed democratic countries that do not inflict anything so privacy-invasive on their population, while they all mandate taxes.
2. The Australian Taxation Office doesn't claim to have held an "extensive community consultation" on the question whether or not the people want to pay taxes.
3. Taxes have been paid in a more or less the same manner for centuries, whereas the ABS have ramped up their invasive practices only during the last two decades. Before the 2000s, the Bureau somehow was perfectly capable of performing its functions without the data retention and linking of such magnitude.
Just y'all wait until the ABS gets hacked like Optus and Medibank. Then you'll receive a nice top-up in bullshit apologies and advice on how to safeguard your identity.
Angry Customer of Hacked Optus and Super Angry Ex-Customer of Hacked Medibank, 14 November 2022
If the ABS were telling the truth that they would never ever disclose our personal data under any circumstances to anyone, they why did the change the census processing procedures and decided to keep all that data? Do they really think that people won't smell a rat??
There are only two ways from there:
- either the laws will be changed and the ABS will start disclosing our personal data,
- or the government will keep the appearances and instead supply the ABS with the data they hold on us, and the ABS will be doing all the data matching and linking for the government.
Anonymous, 14 January 2023
@ the Anonymous above:
Of course they wouldn't collect and keep our personal data for no reason. What you mentioned as the second possible way is actually already happening. Just google (or better duckduckgo) "MADIP" and read what they are doing.
In the past, the ABS was destroying our personal data so that no individual could ever be identified after the census information had been processed. Now they basically assign each person a unique linking key, then "remove" our personal data into a separate file, but can link it back together by using that key whenever they need to do so. Nothing is deleted anymore. Why? Because in 2015 the government established MADIP (Multi-Agency Data Integration Project), and the ABS got the task of linking the personal, health, education, financial, welfare, taxation, employment and other data on each individual "to provide whole-of-life insights on everyone in Australia".
Peter, 20 January 2023
I feel sad and betrayed as I am writing this, but I feel much more abused, violated and threatened by my own government than by all scammers and hackers.
Why? Because if I'm careful, vigilant and sensible enough, no online criminal would ever get any of my money or personal information. They can't force me to give it to them. But the government does exactly that!
The government basically require that we have mobile phones and force us to give our personal information and identity documents to mobile providers. If you chose Optus - too bad. Criminals of the whole world now have your personal information and ID details.
The government bully us funancially into to taking up private health insurance. If you chose Medibank - too bad. Criminals of the whole world now have your personal information and health data.
The government gave the ABS the power to force us to answer all their questions and give them any data they want. We have no choice at all! If we refuse, we face huge fines and imprisonment.
So now who really is the bigger threat to our safety and privacy?
Anonymous, 26 January 2023
So how do we know for certain that we've been selected for this household survey totally randomly? How do we know that we weren't targeted for some racial, political, professional or secret surveillance reasons?
Anonymous, 31 January 2023
We don't. The ABS says their selection is random, but whether that promise can be trusted as an absolute certainty is up to each person to decide.
You can try asking the ABS for a written guarantee that your household was selected absolutely randomly, that you will not be required to provide names and dates of birth for the survey, and that at no point will the ABS try to extract your identity information from other sources and attach it to your survey responses. But most likely you will instead get the usual "we take privacy and security very seriously" spiel while no such guarantees will be given.
The census and the ABS have overstepped their purpose.
This is a symptom of the gradual destruction of our liberties by increasingly totalitarian governments. Under the guise of building schools and hospitals, we are forced to participate in this self-interrogation. Under duress via threat of prosecution, we are forced to give away our private data. But once the private data is no longer private, it can never be retracted. Especially not now, as the ABS doesn't de-identify anything and doesn't delete anything anymore.
Anonymous, 12 February 2023
"Following an extensive public consultation," my ass!
How do we know that they will stick to their own made-up "rules"? Or will they change them on-the-fly again? Or will they just completely ignore them whenever it suits their purposes, or the purposes of the government departments and agencies, police, ASIO, corporate interests, researchers, etc?
Anonymous, 28 February 2023
Our government has not worked FOR the people in a very long time. Neither Libs nor Labs want to put an end to this violation of privacy. So folks, think well and next time vote for someone who would!
Jani, 9 March 2023