Tuesday, August 16, 2016

#CensusFail, or, how #Census2016 is not as big a hit in Australia as in Canada


I've learned that the Australian census, recently concluded, has been the subject of as much controversy as in Canada in recent years. The big difference is that, whereas Canada's census controversies were contrived by the then-ruling Conservative Party government, Australia's worries are more deeply rooted.

Bloomberg's Michael Heath authored the article "Census Boycott Gathers Momentum Amid Australia Privacy Concerns".

A backlash against Australia’s national census is gathering momentum with lawmakers joining calls to boycott Tuesday’s population count amid concern data gathered will be used to build wide-ranging profiles of individuals and violate their right to privacy.

Nick Xenophon, who leads a minority party in parliament, is refusing to provide his name to the compulsory census and thus won’t be able to submit a completed document, risking a fine of A$180 ($138) a day. Other lawmakers , including Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, have also threatened to withhold their names.

Fearing a widespread boycott that could compromise data that’s essential for public service provision, the government has sought to downplay the concerns.

“Privacy matters,” Xenophon told reporters. The Australian Bureau of Statistics “has failed to make a compelling case on why names must be provided and stored for four years. All names will be turned into a code that ultimately can be used to identify you.”

The crux of the debate is over a “statistical linkage key” that will be created for an individual from the name submitted on their census form. Names will also be kept for four years rather than being destroyed after 18 months, as is the current practice.

Privacy advocates say that, irrespective of names being destroyed, the linkage keys will allow answers to future questions to be linked to census responses, enabling the government to compile a profile of a person.


Edward Johnson, also writing for Bloomberg, produced "Census Crash Spurs Australia Security Fears in Blow to Turnbull".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government is facing its first big test since scraping back into office last month, after an apparent overseas attack crashed Australia’s online census and threatened to derail the survey.

The five-yearly census, which is used to underpin economic planning and public service provision, was shut down late yesterday after four so-called denial of service attacks, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The failure is embarrassing for the government, which has defended the integrity of the survey amid calls for a boycott over privacy concerns.

The statistics bureau shut down the site out of an “abundance of caution” to ensure the data already submitted by some 2 million Australians couldn’t be compromised, Treasurer Scott Morrison said Wednesday at a news conference with Turnbull. He joined the prime minister in urging Australians to complete the survey once the site was restored, saying it was “critical to support economic planning.”

This year’s census had already been mired in controversy as lawmakers joined calls to boycott the population count amid concern data gathered could be used to build wide-ranging profiles of individuals and violate their privacy. The debacle is an unwelcome distraction for Turnbull, who was returned to office with a wafer-thin majority of just one seat after the July 2 election -- a result that has eroded confidence in his leadership.

“The sense of trust and goodwill toward the census has been tarnished,” said Zareh Ghazarian, a politics lecturer at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. There’s a risk that people will “have greater reservations now about completing the survey” and the data garnered will be incomplete, he said.


I have seen Australian friends actively complaining on social networking sites about their problems filing their electronic returns.

Do any readers know more about this? If you are Australian, can you explain your perspective? I'm quite curious, and I'm sure our other readers are, too.

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