People Are Going Absolutely Nuts About The Census
What's going on behind #CensusFail?
Once every five years, the government asks you to fill out the census with all your personal details so it can get a snapshot of what Australia is really like.
Late last year the government agency that runs the census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, announced that in this year's census, for the first time, they would be storing people's names and addresses for up to four years.
In the past, the ABS would take all the data (gender, religion, education etc) and junk the names and addresses within 18 months.
The ABS now wants to keep them. The names and the addresses will be split and given a randomised identification figure (called a "statistical linkage key"), which will be kept apart from the rest of the data.
But a former statistician for the ABS, Bill McLennan, sounded the alarm on the name and address retention, writing "this, without doubt, is the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS".
The fact that names and addresses are being retained (albeit as digital codes) has prompted some prominent people to call for a boycott.
It's being likened to an act of "civil disobedience" by one senator.
But demographers are warning people to cool their jets, arguing that keeping this randomised identification information will allow the ABS to provide more accurate data.
"Take for instance indigenous life expectancy figures," said Dr Liz Allen, a demographer at Australian National University.
She told BuzzFeed News: "When indigenous people die, we need a third party to identify whether they were indigenous. The new census allows checks against what the individual has actually reported. It's much more accurate."
Another concern is that this year, not everyone is being sent paper forms to be filled out. Instead, people will be sent these very inconspicuous letters, which contain a login to fill out the census online.
The idea of "function creep" is also one cited by those rallying around the #CensusFail hashtag on Twitter. The theory suggests that while the ABS or the government might not have dodgy intentions for the information now, well, what if things change?
Allen said it would require a change in legislation for other government agencies to track citizens using the data: "No court and no prime minister can be exposed to this data in a readable format. They are what's called 'de-identified aggregates'."
If you do want to ~boycott~ the census, you risk a fine of $180 per day. Deliberately entering the wrong information can also result in an $1800 fine.
Some privacy advocates are suggesting that if people are seriously concerned, they should order a paper census form from the ABS.
"I certainly won't be putting down my easily identifiable name, and I will be using something called a 'non-photo blue' pen which is known to not normally be picked up by scanners," said Liam Pomfret.