One evening every five years, Australians sit down to fill in the Census.
It’s usually an uncontroversial affair and a way for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to create a snapshot of the nation to inform policymakers.
Tuesday August 9 is Census night, but it’s been marred by privacy concerns with many threatening a boycott that could result not only in a truckload of hefty fines, but would also create an inaccurate picture of where we stand in 2016.
People have been airing their concerns (somewhat colourfully) under the Twitter hashtag #CensusFail.
But the Census is nothing new, what’s changed?
Formerly, you could opt in to have your name kept by the ABS. It’s now compulsory.
The rationale for the change is that names and addresses can be matched with other data, for example health or education statistics, to create better services.
The concern is whether that information can really be kept safe and separate from other personal and household information provided in the Census, like your religion.
Weighing in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has given his assurance that proper protections were in place and privacy was “a given”.
“… in undertaking the Census [the ABS] always protects the people’s privacy and the security of their personal details is absolute,” he has said, but many privacy experts — not to mention members of the public — remain unconvinced.
The ABS says names and addresses will be removed from the forms after data collection and processing, then stored separately.
No one working with the data will be given access to the identifying information, which would be destroyed after four years. It used to be destroyed after 18 months.