5489.0 - International Merchandise Trade, Australia, Concepts, Sources and Methods, 2001  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/05/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 6. Data Confidentiality >> Requests for Restrictions

6.18 If an individual or organisation considers that any international merchandise trade data may identify their activities and this is of concern to them, they may lodge a request for the data to be suppressed. Anyone considering a request should first obtain a copy of an ABS booklet International Trade Requests to Confidentialise Data.

6.19 The request should include the following information:

  • the reason the restriction is being requested;
  • the commodity, including its HS classification code;
  • the classifications likely to reveal the trader's activities e.g. the claimant may be the predominant importer into a particular state, or the sole exporter to a particular country;
  • the type of restriction requested e.g. suppression of the unit value for an item, the details of trade with a particular country, or all details relating to the commodity; and
  • the name of the organisation lodging export data with Customs (for exports) or the owner code (for imports). This helps identify the transactions.

6.20 A claim may be based on trade that is about to start, where the trader expects that their activities will be revealed in particular aggregates. In these cases the trader needs to provide details of their expected volumes of trade, in addition to the other details.

6.21 Requests for copies of the booklet, suppression of data, or special aggregate data releases should be directed to The Confidentiality Manager, International Trade Section, Australian Bureau of Statistics, PO Box 10, BELCONNEN, ACT 2616. Contact can also be made by telephone: 02 6252 5409, facsimile: 02 6252 7438, or email: international.trade@abs.gov.au.

How the ABS handles requests

6.22 Every request for a restriction is investigated in terms of the number of traders involved and the significance of the trade. If the investigation confirms that the business activities of the trader are being, or could be, disclosed, an appropriate restriction is implemented.

6.23 The ABS applies the following procedures in undertaking a confidentiality investigation. The procedures are described using the example of an individual or organisation that claims its imports of commodity X are identifiable in ABS international merchandise trade statistics.
  • Step 1 - All import transactions for the previous 12 months for commodity X are extracted and tables produced, which show:
      • the value of imports in the previous 12 months by each importer and their contribution to the total;
      • by month, the value of imports by country of origin by importer, and each importer's contribution to the country total; and
      • the value of imports by month by state of final destination by importer, and each importer's contribution to the state total.
  • Step 2 - These tables are used to establish whether the individual's or organisation's concerns are justified. The assumption is made that future trade will be similar in significance and distribution to that for the previous 12 month period.
  • Step 3 - If some of the organisation's trade is identifiable in the aggregates, the next step is to determine, in consultation with the trader, what type of restriction will satisfy their concern. In doing so, in addition to suppressing a particular aggregate directly, care is taken to make sure that the aggregate is not derivable from other cross classifications. Various restrictions are simulated using the data for the past 12 months. The aim is to use the restriction which maximises data availability, but which still preserves confidentiality.

6.24 When the appropriate restriction has been chosen, it is generally implemented from the beginning of the next available reference month. Only in exceptional circumstances are restrictions applied to data already processed. Restrictions are generally put in place for a minimum of 24 months.

6.25 Table 6.2 compares the impact of the different types of restriction on detailed statistical output. It identifies what data are available and what data are not available for each type of restriction.

6.26 If the pattern of trade is infrequent, it may be possible to only restrict the data for those months in which the individual or organisation trades. The trader's concerns can be met for the periods during which it trades, while still releasing useful data for other periods. If this option is used, the trader will be requested to provide notice of the timing of future trade, so that appropriate restrictions can be put in place.

The impact of the different types of restriction on detailed statistical output.
The impact of the different types of restriction on detailed statistical output.

Examples of appropriate restrictions

6.27 The restriction that is appropriate to a given situation depends on the extent to which the trader's activities are identifiable. The following examples illustrate the appropriate restrictions for particular situations.
  • If the trader is identifiable as an importer of commodity X at the Australian level, it would be necessary to suppress all details of imports of commodity X. If several other commodities in the particular HS chapter also needed to be restricted, a Broad Commodity Details restriction could be considered. Otherwise, a No Commodity Details restriction would be applied.
  • If the trader is identifiable as an importer of commodity X from country Y, it would be necessary to suppress details of the country of origin of imports of commodity X. If it protected the trader's confidentiality satisfactorily, a Selected Country Details restriction (where the group of countries selected included country Y) would be used. If not, a No Country Details restriction would be applied.
  • If the trader is identifiable as an importer of commodity X into state Z, a No State Details restriction (or possibly a Selected State Details restriction) would be applied.
  • If the trader is identifiable as an importer of commodity X from country Y into state Z, there are several options which would be tested. It may be sufficient to place a No State by Country Details restriction (where the group of countries selected included country Y and the group of states included state Z). Alternatively, it may be necessary to apply a Selected State Details, No State Details, Selected Country Details or No Country Details restriction, or some combination of these.

Reviews of restrictions

6.28 The application of a restriction for a particular commodity does not mean that it will be applied to all future statistics for that commodity. Once a restriction is put in place, the data remains restricted in all statistics until the restriction is lifted or changed. Restrictions are reviewed periodically to see if they are still warranted in their current form. With changes in the pattern of trade, a restriction may be dropped completely, amended to restrict less data, or tightened to restrict more data.

6.29 The ABS reviews each confidentiality restriction at least biennially. Where the risk of disclosure is marginal, or a restriction has been imposed on the basis of expected trade, a review may be undertaken after a shorter interval, to check whether trading patterns have changed or the expected volumes of trade have occurred. After a periodic review, the trader who initiated the restriction is contacted by letter to advise them of the outcome. If the data no longer needs to be confidentialised, the restriction is lifted from the month following the review.

6.30 Where a user of statistics considers that data for a particular commodity should no longer be restricted they may request an early review. The user is required to pay for the cost of the investigation, regardless of whether it results in the restriction being lifted or not. If the restriction is found to be no longer justified, it will be lifted or changed, and the trader who requested the original restriction will be advised. Variation or lifting of a restriction will usually only affect statistics from that time forward.

6.31 The type of restriction imposed is based on an analysis of trading patterns for the 12 months preceding the request. As further analysis will not normally be undertaken for two years, it is important that interested parties monitor the statistics to ensure the restrictions continue to meet their requirements.

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