The 2016 Australian Census takes place notionally on Tuesday August 9, and this year there are a few little changes, the biggest of which is the amount of scare mongering going on by people who should know better.  The bottom line – Chill out.

What do Sarah Hansen-Young and Nick Xenophon have in common – other than they are both South Australian politicians?.

That’s right – go to the head of the class, they are both massive attention seekers!

What does the Australian media love about massive attention seekers Sarah Hansen-Young and Nick Xenophon?  That’s right – they’ll always give a grab or quote that makes a great headline.

Both of these elected representatives have today come out saying they won’t be putting their names on the 2016 Census form.

Good one folks, as elected representatives you’re encouraging Australians not to follow the instructions on a multi-million dollar once every five-year government initiative.  Why not tell them to fudge their income and household status details too?

The fact is, if you look at the 2011 census, we put our names on that one without any drama didn’t we?

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So what’s different in 2016?  The Census for the majority of Australians is being done online – on the internet – over the “web”.

And that of course changes a lot of things.

Yep, the data is going to be collected, and stored electronically.

So according to really senior and respected internet security commentators (primarily heard on Twitter) this is a risk.

No doubt, any online system presents risks.  As do offline systems.

  • Ever heard of someone having an old bill stolen from their mail and used to secure an address or other private data and being the process of identity fraud?
  • Ever heard of a whole bunch of personal data on paperwork being trashed but not securely shredded thus posing a huge security risk.
  • Ever heard of a business being broken into and their paper files read?

In 2011, millions of Australian’s wrote their names on a bit of paper, and either posted or waited for a Census worker to return to their home to collect it.  Huge security risk there, the post could be intercepted, could that individual be trusted not to copy the data, and before it was finally imported into the Australian Bureau of Statistics databases, it would have passed through many many hands.

You see, in 2011, the security risk was high, if not higher than it is today.

Less real human beings will be exposed to your raw data.  Many many less.

And while the data is stored online, It’s almost comical to think that for this reason alone we shouldn’t trust the ABS.

  • Have you got a Medicare card?  They’ve got your details and data.
  • Lodged a tax return?  The ATO have your personal data, including your name, your address and your income going back many many years.
  • Receiving any government benefits?  Centrelink knows a heck of a lot about you.
  • What about a drivers licence?  Own a car? Yep, your state motoring body has that data too.

Those are all government institutions – how many of them have been hacked?

  • Got a bank account?  Strewth – have a think about how much they know about you.
  • How about a supermarket rewards card?  Yep, they’ve got a profile of you too.

All of these databases, profiles and sets of information, many of which keep your name and address linked directly to the data – are stored in computers.

Oh, and don’t even start me on if you’ve got a Facebook account or use Google at all!

Just because you fill the information in via the internet, doesn’t mean the data sits on the internet once it’s received.  Doesn’t make it more likely to be hacked.

Yep, computers get hacked.  Yep, we have to hope and trust that the data is kept behind fort knox like security.  But just think for a minute – when was ATO data last hacked?  When was your ATO profile used against you in another government organisation – it’s just stupid and the media and social media experts are spruking this scare mongering because it’s good for clicks.

So, as a reasonable human being with an interest in ensuring our government is able to build the best profile of Australia in 2016 to ensure our services in Education, Health, Infrastructure and other important initiatives which use government funding to determine how best they are used, let alone for small and large businesses to understand where their audience and market is – the Census should be completed in full, and without hesitation.

Enjoy Census night, have a party, enjoy a drink while you fill it out.  Or of course, just fill it out now or later in the week – because you actually don’t have to do it on that specific day, it should though reflect the household as it was on Tuesday 9th August.


For reference, here’s the response on the Census website about secure data:

What is the ABS doing to protect my privacy and keep my data secure?

The Census and Statistics Act 1905 ensures that Census data is never released in an identifiable form, or released to any court, tribunal or any other agency. This will not change. Other government agencies, private agencies and direct marketing companies will not have access to personal information that you provide on the Census form. This is protected by law.

Census data is stored in highly secure environments, protected by physical and information technology security measures that are regularly audited and upgraded.

The 2016 Census is not asking for any additional personal information not provided in the previous Census. Names and addresses have been collected in every Census.

Once Census data has been collected and processed, the ABS removes names and addresses from other personal and household information, and it will never be recombined. The ABS will retain names and addresses collected in the Census in order to enable a richer and more dynamic statistical picture of Australia, through the combination of Census data with other survey and administrative data. Names and addresses will be destroyed in August 2020 or earlier.