The really really safe and unhackable Australian Census.

Ross Hamilton

Ross Hamilton says the ABS is no longer a trustworthy institution. The inference is that it once was …

In a few days we will have the 2016 Australian Census. How exciting! You get to give the government a wealth of your private information and they get to keep it safely on file where nobody can get at it for up to 4 years. Apparently it’s really really safe. No, really.

I suppose these geniuses have never heard of Wikileaks. I suppose they also haven’t seen the recent goings-on at the DNC:

The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee resigned Sunday after a trove of emails were disclosed showing DNC officials had worked to undermine the underdog presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida congresswoman, said in a statement that she would leave her post at the DNC at the end of this week’s convention. She said she would still open and close the gathering and would address the delegates.

She did address the delegates, that is until she got booed off stage. Anyway, a ‘trove of emails were disclosed’. How about that? You’d think that that info would be safe.

So back to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, (ABS). How safe is their data storage? Well, a former employee thinks that it’s not very safe at all:

Privacy activists have already warned of the dangers of retaining information, despite Chief Statistician David Kalisch insisting that names and addresses will be stored securely and separately from other census data.

Now Mr Hamilton has added his voice to the protests, writing to Mr Kalisch and demanding answers about the bureau’s claims that collected data would be over-written in four years.

“If the personal identifier address data-sets are to be over-written or replaced by data-sets from the 2020 census and so on, then to claim the retention of the 2016 data as only temporary is in fact a load of rubbish as it would have become continuing, updated data-sets,” Mr Hamilton said.

Gee, that doesn’t sound too good. And what does the ABS say in response to this?

The bureau’s project head for the census, Duncan Young, issued a response Mr Hamilton’s position, saying 110-year-old legal safeguards were in place to prevent the sharing of census data with other government agencies.

Oh, well that’s all right then. They have 110 year old legal safeguards! What a huge deterrent that is for overseas hackers everywhere!

“Hey man, don’t hack into the ABS site. Are you crazy? Don’t you know that they have 110 year old legal safeguards …?”

But surely they must have something more?

“Once 2016 census processing is complete, names and addresses will be separated from census data and they will never be re-combined.

“The retained names and addresses will be used to generate anonymous linkage keys that will support the integration of census data with other datasets to provide new insights.

If anybody can translate that gibberish for me then I’ll give them a cookie.

The ABS really want everyone to complete this census, even overseas visitors who are in Australia on the particular night. And if you don’t feel like giving a huge whack of your personal information out to what might not be the safest pair of hands around? Then you might get in trouble:

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.

Most Australians give their overwhelming support for the Census and willingly participate for the benefit of their community. Generally, the need to enforce penalties for non-completion is rare.

If a person fails to complete the Census, the first step taken by the 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. It is also an offence to provide false or misleading statements or information. The penalty is a fine of up to $1,800.

Do you like the guilt trip in there? Most Australian really love giving out their personal information under threat of a fine so you should too! But this nasty threat is rather misleading. The Act that they quote only gives a statistician the power to request that a person completes the census. While there are penalty provisions in the Act, there are no penalties related to refusing a request. In order to come under the penalty umbrella you must be served with a personally addressed legally binding “Notice of Direction”. A letter sent to your home address instructing you to comply is not a Notice of Direction.

While I normally love getting up the noses of bureaucrats who purport to know the Act that they are representing, I think there is much more scope for fun in the census this year. For example, one of the questions asks what gender you identify as. The options are Male, Female or Other. If I identify as something then I cannot give out false information. Perhaps I shall also identify as being able to speak Mandarin and Spanish. The list is endless.

I shall decide on the night which path to take. It will most probably depend on alcohol consumption and my mood at the time. I wonder if they have Jedi Knight as a religion …?

One thought on “The really really safe and unhackable Australian Census.

  1. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 07.29.16 : The Other McCain

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