Report of Census review expected this month

ABS to be grilled by separate Senate inquiry

A review into the conduct of the 2016 Census led by the government’s cyber security advisor, Alastair MacGibbon, is expected to be completed by the end of September.

The government announced the review in the wake of the Census night debacle involving the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) pulling the website offline after a series of alleged denial of service attacks

The MacGibbon review is being conducted within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and includes representatives from the Australian Signals Directorate, the Department of Finance, the Department of the Treasury, the Digital Transformation Office and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

The conduct of the Census will be subject to further scrutiny, however, after the Senate yesterday agreed to an inquiry into its administration as well as privacy concerns relating to a decision by the ABS to retain for an extended period the names and addresses gathered.

The ABS pulled the Census website offline after what it claimed was a series of minor denial of service attacks followed by a hardware failure that led to a misidentification of a largescale denial of service attempt.

The ABS and contractor IBM have faced withering criticism in the wake of the debacle.

The Senate yesterday passed a motion to establish an inquiry that will examine the ABS’s “preparation, administration and management” of the Census as well as “arrangements, including contractual arrangements, in respect of the information technology aspects of the Census” and the decision to shut down the website on Census night.

The inquiry’s terms of reference include “privacy concerns in respect of the 2016 Census, including the use of data linking, information security and statistical linkage keys”. The ABS’s decision to retain names and addresses for four years and potentially cross-match them against other data sets was a source of concern among privacy advocates in the lead-up to the Census.

Assistant minister to the prime minister, Senator James McGrath, said the government did not consider the Senate inquiry necessary given the MacGibbon review.

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