Census 2016: The most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians

The Census of Population and Housing is Australia’s largest statistical collection undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. For more than 100 years, the Census has “provided a snapshot of Australia, showing how our nation has changed over time and allowing us to plan for the future.”
By Ethan Nash

(TOTTnews.com) However, as Australians prepare to partake in the latest Census tomorrow, there has been some concerning new changes to the process that has outraged citizens and privacy advocates, as Ethan Nash explains.
Earlier this year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced that the department is expected to retain “all the names and addresses” it had collected “to enable a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia.”
Previously, it was optional for people to allow the Australian Bureau of Statistics to retain their name and address when completing the census. The ABS, at the same time, also recently made the change to retention of name and address data from 18 months to four years.
They reached this decision after conducting a rapid ‘internal assessment’, with no independent oversight. Furthermore, it follows two previous similar proposals, both of which were scrutinised under proper process, being rejected in 2006 and 2011.
This is an example of the Australian establishment’s new ‘security-over-privacy’ approach in recent years, a notion introduced when former Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated there ‘would have to be a shift between the two measures’ before introducing three pieces of ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation in 2014.
Related: The Fall of Australia: An overview of new ‘anti-terrorism’ legislation
Set to be carried out on August 9th, the national survey is compulsory, with measures in place to punish those who do not participate. The Census website reads:
The Census is compulsory. Everyone in Australia on Census night must complete the Census. The information is collected under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905.
If a person fails to complete the Census, the first step taken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is to notify that person of their legal obligation to do so. If that person continues to refuse to complete the Census, they may face a fine of up to $180 per day until the form is returned. In some cases, penalties can also include a criminal conviction for failure to complete and return a form when directed.
The move has subsequently been slammed by privacy advocates over the extended retention of names and addresses, and the confusing nature of new moves online to complete the form.
In an era where governments are cracking down on speech, introducing laws restricting the right to silence and the right to protest, and after an election triggered by a bill to squash workers rights, there’s plenty of anxiety to go around. We now live in a country that has seen repeated examples of both government and opposition ignoring legitimate concerns raised by privacy advocates about existing or new policies.
A former statistician for the ABS, Bill McLennan, was the first to sound the alarm on the name and address collection. In a recent public statement, he expressed his concerns with the erosion of anonymity and the increased retention of data:
This, without doubt, is the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS.
In addition to privacy concerns, Dr. Mark Gregory from the RMIT School of Engineering told media that “Australians should be worried” about the ABS collecting their personal information, stating “…they can’t guarantee the security of the information.”
This includes information such as sex, age, marital status, indigenous status, religious affiliation, income, education level, ancestry, language spoken at home, occupation, work address, previous home address, vehicles garaged at your address, and the relationships between people living in the same home.
The dataset available from a national census would make the social data, call logs, and other vast swathes of information that we know government agencies are scooping up, that much more dangerous. It was over a decade ago that the US Department of Homeland Security admitted accessing US Census data on Arab Americans, and the data-mining, automation and ease in cross-populating of data sets has only improved since then.
Related: Erosion of Privacy in Australia: Basic facts you need to know
Data retention was only the first of many concerns around the Census, which would soon grow when independent Senator Nick Xenophon highlighted confusion over the shift to an online form.
Australians now have the option of doing the Census online, using a 12-digit identification number. If you choose to fill out the census online, the fields for name and address are mandatory. If you wish to remain anonymous, Australians can call a phone hotline to request a paper copy.
However, phone lines have quickly become jammed with an abundance of people attempting to obtain a paper copy, and with phones and emails at the ABS unanswered, and the $180 per day fine for not completing the census to be enforced, it provides a convincing scenario of coercion for many.
Top privacy advocates have slammed the proposals, stating that they represent the most significant and intrusive collection of identifiable data every Australian, that has ever been attempted. It will allow the ABS to build up, over time, a rich and deep picture of every Australian’s life, in an identifiable form.
Census night is tomorrow. If you’re against filling out the lengthy and probing survey due to privacy concerns, you may be able to get away with leaving key information out without being slapped a hefty fine.
In closing, this article is not here to tell you what to do tomorrow. However, the underlying message that needs to be stressed – regardless of outcome – is that this discussion is a positive step for Australia.
After massively ramped up their surveillance of every citizen whilst taken compliance for granted, they have eroded public trust in their willingness to protect individual privacy. In an era of ever-expanding state power, wholesale reliance on the benevolence of future governments to not misuse the power the present government is forcibly extracting from its people is no way to achieve census consensus.


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Categories: Australian-news, politics

Author:General Maddox

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4 Comments on “Census 2016: The most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians”

  1. PeterdJ
    August 8, 2016 at 8:21 pm #

    Well what does it look like, seen it before? Copy cat America. Shame that our beautiful Australia, yes I am an OZ living abroad, unfortunately, is dictated by the US in how to conduct its local affairs all in aid of control of the population resulting in loss of freedom (s). The US is facing martial law, soon.

  2. PennyBH
    August 8, 2016 at 9:58 pm #

    What a bloody drag Census is. They have the details anyway. Coercion to use online is correct. Freedom dies, privacy dead and stupid “for our safety” keeps being rolled out. The USA is already a police state. Read ‘Battlefield America” and see exactly why. Chilling.
    Martial Law will mean Civil War. Gun sales are rocketing upward as in Europe of they can get them. Aussies are ignorant mugs in a Kow Tow game to Washington. Communist, totalitarian scumbags; and as we say, that is on a good day.

  3. kevin
    August 9, 2016 at 11:21 am #

    During the recent Muslim immigration offensive in Europe I downloaded and listened to a discussion (which I think? was Red Ice Radio) in which this story was related.

    In Sweeden a lady who had been living in her own home for 20+ years was suddenly evicted from her home and a Muslim family installed in the home.

    The questions that arises are:

    Did they use census data to know her home had unused bedrooms and did they also use census data to know that this lady was the only person living in the home.

    Did they also use census data to ‘find’ this ladys home as a suitable home for the Muslim refugees?

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