Census August 2016 - Privacy Concerns

There is a bit of public reaction at the moment about the 2016 Census and recent changes which mean that, for the first time ever, the names and identifying information will not be discarded from the census. Of course the government valiantly claims that the data will not be accessible, but recent precedents from Panama and also the results of the Turkish census show that we really can’t trust secret data to stay secret - not to mention general government incompetence.

I see that there are some mentions of this on the PP facebook page, but I feel like we could be doing more.

Personally, I think some sort of protest on census night would be good, something like ‘sleeping rough on census night’ where people camp somewhere significant and demand to fill out the census for that location.

It isn’t a bad idea, I don’t think people would be so keen for sleeping out, but maybe an alternative could be social events, such as having a beer in a pub at 8pm (census time) or whatever it is that people who don’t drink do when they go out.

If there is interest we could start organising census resistance parties. If anyone is keen, or has a better idea, I suggest replying to this topic.

A campaign idea I’ve discussed with a few people is around the concept of a ‘Count down to census day’, it would be a simple website soliciting people’s email addresses, with a big countdown clock, and a warning to the ABS that we will unlock another form visible on the page to facilitate a mass/DDOS access-to-information requests campaign under the Privacy Act if the decision to retain names and addresses is not dropped.

Since under the Privacy Act you have a right to access information held by any organisation to confirm it is correct, and though I still believe there is a court case going on about the Information Commissioner’s ruling that any metadata / linked data is personal information, this could be a way to basically scare the ABS back into doing the right thing since it doesn’t matter if they store names and addresses in one system, the census answers in another, if the data is linked it falls under the scope of a personal information access request.

There is irony to this idea though, as we would have to point out we would also need people’s names and addresses to launch a mass personal-information-request at the ABS and that the ABS is probably the only organisation that may be able to withstand such a campaign. But we could make light of that and by doing so increase the effectiveness of such a campaign, ie at the end of it we’ll do what the ABS should be doing, and that is destroying the name and address information being collected.

This is getting closer now, and people are starting to talk about this more. Some tl;dr links first: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-15/berg-census-privacy-threat/7244744 https://medium.com/@rossfloate/the-2016-australian-census-is-a-privacy-nightmare-and-it-needs-re-tooling-fast-b3b821fa4bea https://www.crikey.com.au/2016/07/14/census-cannot-force-you-to-give-data/

Also important, the 1905 Census & Statistics Act : https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2006C00178

I think, given the nature of the issue, we should probably say something. I’d prefer it if we did something bigger, given that privacy online is a fairly big part of our core policy. Sure, a press release should come out, but why not aim big? :slight_smile:

Some ideas that I’ve had:

Nothing forces people to use the online form, we can still use paper forms. PPAU could organise “census shufflings” where people can come together and fill out census forms, and then physically detach the identifying from non-identifying sections. Actually, should probably detach and shuffle the parts first, and try to ensure handwriting can’t easily be identified. Then we can submit a bundle of mixed together census papers. Everyone who participates will have answered the relevant statistical questions (so under the 1905 Act I’m confident we have satisfied the requirements) but peoples privacy is maintained.

The 1905 Act is also fairly clear that the ABS may “request a person to answer a question that is necessary to obtain any statistical information in relation to any matter referred to in section 8 or 9.” As the Crikey link points out, it’s not clear that names or addresses are statistical information. If the first question the online survey asks is your name, could a person refuse to answer as the ABS has no basis to force said information? If so, presumably the survey won’t advance, and since it doesn’t advance, the ABS technically never requested said person to answer any more questions.

Yep. Particularly the online privacy crew. Asher and Rosie are making some noise. I think we should be helping them shout.

PPAU Press Release https://pirateparty.org.au/2016/03/21/pirate-party-calls-for-census-boycott-due-to-privacy-concerns/

The article refers to this Bill McLennan (Australian Statistician 1995-2000.) paper. In short "The ABS doesn’t have the authority to collect ‘name’ in the 2016 Census on a compulsory basis."

Perhaps instead of promoting a boycott PPAU could promote a script for those concerned about their privacy. Something like “Under article 23.6 of the constitution you can’t compel me to give that information”. Do a few “memes” and post #likeapirate. Just a thought.

I agree with all that except for the memes. The memes for the election were widely ridiculed and made the party seem like a bunch of 17 year olds.

Okay … call them “posters” or “info boards”. Like the TLDR campaign. Sort of.

edit: Perhaps a do/don’t list. eg.

  1. Don’t do it online.
  2. Do it honestly.
  3. Don’t provide identifying info.
  4. Something else …

Just wanted to quickly say that, yes, we have a press release on this issue from 4 months ago, but at the very least we should be waving it around some more, if not even making a new press release.

1 Like

I think this is the way to go if the Bill McLennan paper is examined and endorsed by those who know this stuff (not me).

edit: reading it makes my head fuzzy but the crux of it seems to be that “name” data isn’t being collected for statistical purposes therefore citizens can’t be compelled, by the ATO, to provide their name.

The propaganda …

I want to complete the census but don’t want to supply my name. What to do …

As, I think, no one has done this thus far, I have requested clarification on this issues with the ABS.

In regard to this article - https://www.crikey.com.au/2016/07/14/census-cannot-force-you-to-give-data/. What legal precedence is there to compulsorily request my name on the 2016 Census? Is ‘name’ now deemed “Statistical Information”? And if it is deemed “Statistical Information” does it meet the requirements? re:Section 12 Publication etc of statistics
Is the former Australian Statistician Bill McLennan wrong? And if so how so?
Thank you for considering my request for clarification.

1 Like