The Australian Bureau of Statistics has begun its preparations for the 2021 Census, seeking a supplier to provide the online component of the national data-gathering exercise.
The 2016 Census was beset by controversy both because of privacy concerns and the embarrassing failure of its online component during Census night.
The ABS pulled the Census website offline after a series of minor distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
IBM hosted the Census site under a contract signed in 2014, and the tech giant was criticised by then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull over the DDoS mitigation strategy it employed.
A government-commissioned review into the Census concluded that the DDoS attacks were “defeatable” and that the mitigation strategy, which was called ‘Island Australia’ and relied on geoblocking, was inadequate.
IBM blamed its network supplier, Nextgen, for the problems with Island Australia.
In November 2016 the government said it had “reached a commercial-in-confidence settlement with IBM” in relation to the debacle. The ABS estimated the problems cost it around $30 million.
The ABS has issued a request for tenders that said it expects the “2021 Census digital service will be the default and most convenient channel for the public to participate in the Census”.
“A trusted, simple, easy to use contemporary experience will be required to ensure the continued growth in online completion, and the ABS continues to strive towards further developing and enhancing its digital capability to support this outcome,” tender documents state.
“In addition, the ABS will need to continue to enable people to easily request and acquire a paper form for those who cannot or not want to, complete their form online.”
The ABS said that it and the supplier will have to work closely with other government agencies including the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), “to develop a strategy and roadmap to deliver a secure, trusted and simple online capability that will meet the needs of our users, and support the Australian Government’s commitment to ‘digital by default’ and ‘privacy by design’”.
“The ABS will work closely with interested suppliers to confirm proposed solutions can deliver high standards of security, reliability and capacity required for the 2021 Census,” said Chris Libreri, the ABS general manager, Census and Statistical Services Division.
“The need to keep all Census information secure and confidential is, as always, a primary and paramount factor in designing the digital Census. The ABS is actively managing risks (including cyber) for the 2021 Census and is engaging independent experts to provide assurance on the solution, including the Digital Transformation Agency and the Australian Cyber Security Centre.”
ABS CIO Steve Hamilton said that the ABS is keen to have the Census hosted in a cloud environment.
“We are seeking to provide an engaging and secure service hosted on cost effective and proven cloud infrastructure that delivers the experience, performance and resilience expected by all Australians when transacting online,” the CIO said.
A cloud service will need to be IRAP assessed, the ABS said.