'Australian should be worried': Concerns over Census privacy

'Australian should be worried': Concerns over Census privacy

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has attempted to alleviate fears about the security of personal details gathered in the upcoming Census.

Mr Turnbull's statement comes after independent senator Nick Xenophon demanded the national survey to be delayed over privacy concerns, the ABC has reported.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is expected to retain "all the names and addresses" it had collected "to enable a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia."

Mr Turnbull said in a statement that the ABS "always protects people's privacy".

"The security of their personal details is absolute and that is protected by law and by practice," he said.

"That is a given."

Set to be carried out on August 9, the compulsory national survey has been slammed by privacy advocates over the extended retention of names and addresses for a period of four years.

Dr Mark Gregory from the RMIT School of Engineering told the ABC that "Australians should be worried" about the ABS collecting their personal information.

"They can't guarantee the security of the information."

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie also issued a statement on the issue.

He cited a "broad feeling of confusion in the community".

"I do not doubt the importance of the Census and I commend the vast majority of ABS staff for doing the very best they can," he said.

"But the Government needs to step up and listen to the concerns in the community and provide an assurance that no one will be fined if they haven't been able to complete the census."

Mr Wilkie's concerns allude to revelations from the Guardian that the ABS had has referred 667 Australians for prosecution for failing to complete their census, with "one Australian even facing a $10,000 fine".

New South Wales census director Liz Bolzan played down concerns, telling ABC radio that it was "very, very rare for [that penalty] to be enforced."

The chief statistician at the ABS, David Kalisch, told the ABC’s 7.30 program on Wednesday it was a matter for the director of public prosecutions if people failed to fill in their name on the census form.

“We would provide some information to the DPP, but in the last census, I think it was less than 100 people were actually prosecuted for not completing the census correctly,” Kalisch said.

“Australians really love the Census and I look forward to them completing the census on, before or after census night."

Mr Kalisch said the ABS had never had a privacy breach with Census information.

"We do secure the information somewhat differently … These days we can keep names separate from address and separate from other Census content, in three separate computer systems and never brought together."

A former statistician for the ABS, Bill McLennan, was the first to sound the alarm on the name and address retention.

"This, without doubt, is the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS," he said.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam likened the decision to an act of "civil disobedience."

Concerns around the Census grew when independent Senator Nick Xenophon highlighted confusion over the shift to an online form.

Australians now have the option of doing the Census online, using a 12-digit identification number, or calling a phone hotline to request a paper copy.

However, phone lines have quickly become jammed with an abundance of people attempting to obtain a paper copy.

Senator Xenohphon said the census was becoming a "shemozzle".

"This census may go down in history, for the unenviable statistic, that there will be a record number of Australians that won't be participating in it."

Last week, The Guardian reportedthat the ABS has had 14 security breaches of its data since 2013.

However, none of these were related to the census.

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