Tuesday the 9th of August 2016 marks a date in technological history; the first ever online census in Australia. Whilst you’d think this should be a cause for celebration, there are many concerns around the baggage that this brings. More specifically, the new policies that compromise the privacy rights of Australian citizens.
When first hearing about the move to online data gathering, I thought, ‘Finally! No more ridiculous amounts of paper. Hopefully the election goes online too because, as most of us know, the size of that ballot sheet was just plain stupid’. However, a quick search on google revealed a number of interesting articles that shared the finer print of what this change really means. Amongst these, there was one that seemed particularly relevant to this course written by independent senator for South Australia, Nick Xenophon.
Mr Xenophon explains how not only are there 4 million Australians who don’t have access to stable internet and are calling in to request the paper material [which the now understaffed Australian Bureau of Statistics call centre is struggling to cope with], but that there are also concerns that the ABS IT system is not equipped to handle the large amount of traffic that the site will be hit with.
“But those problems almost pale into insignificance with the alarming privacy concerns that have been raised.” (Xenophon, 2016). Whilst the idea to store the names and addresses of participants was first brought to the table in 2005, this was swept aside after a privacy expert was commissioned and ruled against it. Apparently the ABS issued a review of the policy, this time conducted in-house, and this year it has become compulsory to provide your full personal details in the census or face a $180 fine per day until you have!
The Bureau has attempted to settle concerns by assuring the information will be coded to maintain anonymity, but as Senator Xenophon points out, this can easily be reversed and government or internet hackers could potentially gain access to names and locations of every participant in connection to their census responses.
Now that is not okay with me! The whole point of the census is to provide the government with data to shape future legislation that benefits the country. Collecting names and addresses most certainly has no part in that, and neither does endangering citizen’s privacy and their right to protect personal information.
Former head of the ABS, Bill McLennan, weighs in on these concerns saying that “The compulsory collection and retention of names and addresses is … very likely to result in a significant public backlash against the 2016 Census with people either boycotting the Census or providing incorrect information. Thousands and thousands of government, business, academic and other users rely on high quality Census data, and a reduction of the accuracy of that data would be a serious issue” (ABC News, 2016). He also mentioned that the Bureau does not actually have the authority and legislation to make the collection of names compulsory.
To read the full article from Senator Nick Xenophon click below:
Having second thoughts about how great an online census will be?
ABC News, 2016. #CensusFail: Why people are worried about the census. The ABC Network.
Xenophon, N., 2016. For or against: The Census debate. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nickxenophon.com.au/media/nicks-must-reads/show/for-or-against-the-census-debate/
[Accessed 9 August 2016].