The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has recently announced that people being surveyed for the Census can no longer retain their anonymity. The ABS will now retain the names and addresses of all contributors to the 2016 Australian Census. The previous Census introduced retention of private data on an opt-in basis, but this time around, retention of private data is to be compulsory.
“Whilst we don’t believe that the ABS is planning to collect identifiable information for nefarious purposes, there are serious privacy concerns with collecting names and addresses along with all of the other personal information gathered in the Census,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “A future government could simply re-collate the data and use the information to target opponents based on religion, career or ethnicity. When potential abuse can only be thwarted by the good-will of future governments, the risk to personal safety is too great.”
The Census is a valuable tool for understanding the characteristics of the Australian population and for determining where services are needed. To have the most accurate snap-shot of the Australian population, privacy must be respected or people will take steps to protect their own privacy from the state. This was noted by the ABS themselves in a report tabled to a parliamentary inquiry 1997.
“We call on the ABS to drop the compulsory collection of names and addresses to ensure that the data collected both respects the privacy of all Australians and is of the highest quality,” Mr Frew continued. “We understand the desire for accurate information about the demographics of Australia, but this is not happening in isolation. The government is working to erode privacy through data retention, warrantless surveillance and other methods such as collating data through MyGov. This is being done with little consultation and enough is enough.”
“We call on anyone concerned about giving their names to the ABS to boycott the Census. Unless the compulsory collection of personally identifying information is once again made voluntary, the risks to personal privacy is just too great.”
The Census and Statistic Act 1905 includes fines for refusing to accurately fill out the Census, it is important that anyone engaging in a boycott understands the risk of being fined and people may wish to take another course of action to protect their privacy from the ABS.