Australia Census 2016: No ‘Anonymous’ Data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics made an announcement in December 2015 where it specified that Census 2016 data will reveal the identity of participants and hence will not be anonymous anymore.

The announcement has invited controversial feedback as it is doubtful whether Australians would still trust the government because of their plan to divulge identity details of respondents for the Census 2016 data. According to, the ABS move might prompt citizens to refuse to participate in providing census data to researchers knocking at their doors in August 2016.

Census is all about giving frank answers to political, financial, religious and social questions asked by the government’s representatives coming to respondent’s doors. To play safe, participants who answer the questions would never want their identities revealed to government organisations. It was on December 18, 2015 when the ABS posted on its website that it would retain personal details of the respondents who participate in Census 2016. “Whilst the Census has always been valuable in its own right, when used in combination with other data, the Census can provide even greater insight,” the ABS said in a statement.

Australia’s top statistician between 1995-2000, Bill McLennan, criticised ABS’s move to not to keep details secretly into the organisation’s spreadsheet. McLennan, along with the Australian Privacy Foundation, said that there was no guarantee that data will not be tampered with by future governments. The statistician added that around 19 percent of Australians in 2015 indicated their lack of trust in the government and its institutions. As a result, according to McLennan’s conversation with The Australian Financial Review, the census of 2016 might prompt “an active civil disobedience” campaign across the nation.

Privacy consultant Nigel Waters suggested to the bureau that its move to reveal the identity of respondents of census 2016 will question the credibility of the survey. “In privacy terms, it’s clearly a major intrusion and one that is going to be unwelcomed by a lot of people,” Waters said.

“Secondly, it’s not worth the risk in terms of the integrity of the census data, which is very important for the nation — because if people really can’t trust the information they give is going to be kept confidential … then they’re either going to sabotage it by giving the wrong information, or refuse to give the information in the first place.”

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