Turnbull, Morrison defend Census security

ABS under fire over privacy concerns

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have both sought to reassure Australians in the wake of privacy concerns over the 2016 Census.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) “always protects people's privacy and the security of their personal details is absolute,” Turnbull said yesterday during a doorstop following the launch of the Australian Federal Police’s new forensics facility.

At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon Morrison said that the ABS has an “unblemished” record when it comes to privacy.

A move by the ABS to encourage greater online participation in the Census and a decision by the statistics agency to retain names and address data for four years have drawn criticism from privacy advocates.

The government has said that having a majority of households completing the Census online will save more than $100 million and make data from the process available faster. The agency has faced criticism from individuals who have struggled to obtain paper forms as an alternative to filing their Census forms online.

The ABS has argued that retaining names and address data will improve the quality of the statistics gathered during the Census.

A 22 July statement from agency head, Australian Statistician David Kalisch, argued:

There are extremely robust safeguards in place to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the information collected in the Census, including names and addresses. After data collection and processing, the ABS removes names and addresses from other personal and household information, stores them securely and separately from one another, and other Census information. They will never be recombined. This is a new capability for the ABS, and a new security feature that protects the community, introduced over the past decade.
However, Kalisch has acknowledged there is always a chance that the agency’s IT systems could be hacked.

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