Australian Prime Minister Tries Alleviating Fears Over Census Privacy Concerns

The security of personal details is a rather important concern in the upcoming census in Australia. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull tried to alleviate fears in his statement after independent senator Nick Xenophon demanded the national survey to be delayed over privacy concerns. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is expected to collect “all the names and addresses to enable a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia.”

According to Turnbull, he “always protects people’s privacy”. He added in his statement:

“The security of their personal details is absolute and that is protected by law and by practice. That is a given.”

The national census in Australia will take place on August 9. The compulsory survey has been receiving pretty much resistance from privacy advocates because of the collection of names and addresses for the period of four years.

Dr. Mark Gregory from the RMIT School of Engineering told that “Australians should be worried” about the ABS collecting their personal information:

“They can’t guarantee the security of the information,” he said.

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie also raised his concerns over privacy saying there’s a “broad feeling of confusion in the community”.

“I do not doubt the importance of the Census and I commend the vast majority of ABS staff for doing the very best they can. But the Government needs to step up and listen to the concerns in the community and provide an assurance that no one will be fined if they haven’t been able to complete the census, Wilkie said.

Wilkie referred to 667 Australians for prosecution for failing to complete the last census, with “one Australian even facing a $10,000 fine”.

New South Wales census director Liz Bolzan told the media it is “very, very rare for [that penalty] to be enforced.”

The chief statistician at the ABS, David Kalisch made this statement regarding the case:

“We would provide some information to the DPP, but in the last census, I think it was less than 100 people were actually prosecuted for not completing the census correctly. Australians really love the Census and I look forward to them completing the census on, before or after census night. We do secure the information somewhat differently … These days we can keep names separate from address and separate from other Census content, in three separate computer systems and never brought together.”

A former statistician for the ABS, Bill McLennan, was the first to sound the alarm on the name and address collection:

“This, without a doubt, is the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS.”

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said there is a chance the privacy concerns could lead to an act of “civil disobedience” among people.

Concerns around the census grew when independent Senator Xenophon highlighted confusion over the shift to an online form. Australians have the option of doing the census online, using a 12-digit identification number, or calling a phone hotline to request a paper copy. However, phone lines have quickly become overwhelmed with tons of people attempting to obtain a paper copy.

“This census may go down in history, for the unenviable statistic, that there will be a record number of Australians that won’t be participating in it,” Xenophon said.

Last week, The Guardian reported the ABS has had 14 security breaches of its data since 2013, however, none of those were related to the census.

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