Liberty Victoria has in recent days been contacted by a number of persons concerned about the 2016 Census and the privacy implications for them.
Liberty acknowledges that the collection of statistical data is a necessary and useful means for governments to plan for the benefit of all Australians. However, we have great reservations with the electronic collection of data, its retention and its safe storage. These concerns were expressed in our press release of 22 July 2016, https://libertyvictoria.org.au/content/danger-census-facts-leaking-liberty-victoria-warns and have also been expressed by a number of other organisations. We understand that there have been some 14 data breaches in the last 3 years. The Australian Privacy Foundation has clearly articulated those concerns on its website https://www.privacy.org.au. The APF website provides useful information and suggestions for anyone wishing to know more about the Census and privacy concerns.
The power to conduct a Census is found in the Census and Statistics Act 1905 http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/casa1905241/
The Act sets out the powers of the Statistician to conduct a Census, the information that may be required, how it may be required and penalties for non-compliance. In response to some of the uncertainty concerning the law, it seems to us that an offence is created only if a person is served a direction under sections 10(4) or 11(2) and then fails to comply with the direction. It is also an offence to provide information that is false or misleading in a material particular. There is a defence if the particular sought relates to a person’s religious beliefs.
Liberty recognises that there will be many in the community who will have a conscientious objection to the completion of this year's census requirements on the ground that to comply may significantly compromise their right to privacy, and their right to control the usage of personal information collected by government about them. Liberty respects such conscientious objection.
Liberty notes, however, that a failure to comply with census requirements, and in particular an individual and specific directive from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that a person must complete the census form, may incur a financial penalty. Before embarking on such a course, therefore, Liberty recommends that any person considering non-compliance, should obtain appropriate legal or other advice as to how to minimise the risk of incurring any consequential penalty.
To those completing the Census, Liberty Victoria recommends completing the paper version rather than the online version. You can request a paper form by sending ABS an inquiry online at https://www.census.abs.gov.au/eCensusWeb/help_form.jsp or calling 1300 820 275. ABS is contactable 24 hours per day. You will need your Census letter and the 12-digit login number contained in the letter.
We also urge that you voice your concerns to your local MP and to the Australian Statistician, David W. Kalisch, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Locked Bag 10 Belconnen ACT 2616.
It is important that we remind, and keep reminding, all politicians of our very real concerns for the privacy and security of information provided.
Privacy artwork © Wilfred Hildonen