Data Integration - FAQ
 

DATA INTEGRATION FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is committed to extracting the greatest value from Australia’s statistical assets. We are supporting the delivery of the best policies and services for all Australians. We will achieve this by working as a partner with all those who need better quality information to inform better quality outcomes.
The ABS is also committed to upholding the privacy, confidentiality and security of the personal information it collects. Not only does the ABS have strong legislative protections that safeguard the privacy of an individual's information, it has a proud 100-year history of maintaining community trust in the way it collects, uses, discloses and stores your personal information.


What is data integration?

Data integration means bringing information together.

It is an efficient and effective way of creating new insights from reusing existing data to address important questions about Australian society. When a problem is identified that no single set of data can resolve, data can be brought together in a very safe and controlled way, to enable analysis of the issue.


What are the benefits of data integration?

Providing new insights where information has not previously been available.

Small groups or sub-populations, such as indigenous communities, are often under represented in single data sets. Combining data sets means these groups can be better represented by having a more informed picture. Data integration also allows us to make better use of existing data. Problems can be resolved more efficiently and effectively if the public doesn’t need to be asked the same question multiple times for different purposes.

We can also identify relationships that may never have previously been able to be identified. The value of data integration is that it allows problems to be solved that no single data set could solve on its own.


What are the benefits of the ABS performing data integration?

The ABS is an approved Integrating Authority.

An Integrating Authority is permitted to carry out data integration projects involving sensitive data. This accreditation is based on an assessment that assures the public and Government that integration of data is undertaken in a safe and secure manner, with the requisite skills, processes, infrastructure and culture in place to undertake data integration projects safely.


What data has the ABS brought together?

The ABS is committed to openness and transparency of all data integration projects.

All ABS data integration projects are registered on the online Commonwealth Data Integration Project Public Register on the National Statistical Service website.


When is data integration used?

When no single dataset can answer the question.

Data integration is only ever used for statistical and research purposes if the required analysis cannot be carried out using single data sets on their own. Your data would never be allowed to be integrated for regulatory or compliance tracking.

There are two general approaches to joining data together - either across collections, or over time. Cross collection linkage relies on finding common elements in different source datasets and then using these common elements to merge the datasets together, while time based linkage creates a time series of data from a number of 'single point in time' observations.


How does the ABS decide on what to join together?

Information will only be combined when there is a public benefit in doing so.

Any request to bring data together must be supported by strong justification and undergo a rigorous assessment and approval process to ensure the project provides a significant public benefit and safeguards privacy.

Only data that is absolutely required is included in any integrated set of data. Any data integration project must adhere to a set of Commonwealth endorsed High Level Principles to ensure your information is managed safely and securely, and in a manner that guarantees privacy.

  • Principle 1 - Strategic resource
    Responsible agencies should treat data as a strategic resource and design and manage administrative data to support their wider statistical and research use.
  • Principle 2 - Custodian’s accountability
    Agencies responsible for source data used in statistical data integration remain individually accountable for their security and confidentiality.
  • Principle 3 - Integrator’s accountability
    A responsible ‘Integrating Authority’ will be nominated for each statistical data integration proposal.
  • Principle 4 - Public benefit
    Statistical integration should only occur where it provides significant overall benefit to the public.
  • Principle 5 - Statistical and research purposes
    Statistical data integration must be used for statistical and research purposes only.
  • Principle 6 - Preserving privacy and confidentiality
    Policies and procedures used in data integration must minimise any potential impact on privacy and confidentiality.
  • Principle 7 - Transparency
    Statistical data integration will always be conducted in an open and accountable way so anyone can see how their data is being used.


How is the information brought together safely?

Our internal processes ensure that privacy is a paramount consideration when data is being combined.

No person will ever be able to see all of your information together at any point of the data combining process. This is known as the separation principle.

Under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the personal information you provide the ABS remains strictly confidential. The ABS never has and never will release identifiable data.

As an Australian Government agency, we also comply with the Privacy Act 1988 (Privacy Act) and handle your personal information in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs).

All ABS staff are legally bound never to release your personal information to any individual or organisation outside of the ABS. It’s an offence for any ABS staff, past or present, to divulge, directly or indirectly, any information collected under this Act. Penalties include fines of up to $21,600 or imprisonment for up to 2 years, or both, for anybody convicted of breaching this obligation.

We cannot, and will not share or provide your identifiable personal information to any government department or organisation. Key measures to safeguard information include strong encryption of data, restricted access on a need-to-know basis and monitoring of all staff, including regular audits.


How is my privacy protected?

Privacy protection is of paramount importance to the ABS as a trusted public institution.

ABS is committed to upholding the privacy, confidentiality and security of the personal information it collects. Not only does the ABS have strong legislative protections which safeguard the privacy of an individual’s information, it has a proud 100-year history of maintaining community trust in the way it collects, uses, discloses and stores personal information. This reflects our culture, attitudes and practices as much as our legislative obligations and methodologies.

In addition to legislation that safeguards everyone’s privacy (the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the Privacy Act 1988), we also ensures internal practices, methodologies and technology protecting your information are state of the art.

An independent assessment of ABS’ compliance with statutory privacy principles as well as wider privacy concerns and principles undertaken in 2005 by a former Privacy Commissioner found that the “ABS is proactive in seeking to ensure compliance with legislative requirements and internal administrative practices.” [1]

Since then, an independent audit of the ABS was undertaken in April 2012 as part of the ABS’ accreditation as an Integrating Authority [2]. This accreditation ensures that risks are assessed, managed and mitigated throughout the duration of any data integration project. As an accredited data integration authority, the ABS complies with a set of key principles for any project that combines Census data with other data, including assessing every project to ensure that the project provides a significant public benefit.

We have no tolerance for not addressing risks around data or data integration practices. For this reason, a rigorous assessment and approval process will always assess applications for data integration to ensure the purpose and desired outcomes can be achieved safely and in the public interest.

In addition, no person will ever be able to see all of your information together at any point of the combining process. This is known as the separation principle. The ABS’ application for Accreditation addresses in detail how we adhere to the separation principles. The key layers of protection that will be in place as a result of applying functional separation are listed in the 2015 Privacy Impact Assessment [3].

It is widely recognised that an essential element of best practice for safely bringing data together is separation - separating personal identifiers from actual data, with the use of personal identifiers confined to the initial linking stage [4]. This method provides maximum protection of private and confidential information.

Further information on privacy of your data supplied in the Census of Population and Housing can be found on the Census - Privacy, confidentiality and security page.


How secure is my personal information?

The ABS uses first-rate security to protect the privacy of all personal information collected.

The security measures in place have been independently tested and reviewed to ensure that your personal information is secure. The ABS was rated as being in a Cyber Secure Zone, high level protection from external attacks and internal breaches and disclosure of information. The independent assessment of ABS’ compliance with statutory privacy principles as well as wider privacy concerns and principles also found that “ABS security measures meet the highest standards.” [5]

Australian Signals Directorate strategies are implemented by the ABS. These strategies include strategies specifically designed to mitigate targeted cyber intrusions. The ABS took part in an Australian National Audit Office cross-agency audit in 2014 on information technology system security against cyber-attacks. The ABS was rated as being in a Cyber Secure Zone (having high-level protection from external attacks and internal breaches and disclosure of information). [6]

The ABS also utilises a high level encryption of data, including tight security around the storage and creation of the encryption keys. The ABS was also the first Commonwealth agency to receive certification at the ‘In confidence’ level by the Defence Signals Directorate for its Internet Gateway. [7]


How can the ABS prevent re-identification?

The ABS privacy protections to prevent re-identification include:
  1. Strong legislative protections which safeguard the privacy of an individual’s information. An independent assessment of ABS implementation of our secrecy provisions was undertaken in 2005 [8] and this assessment remains current.
  2. Audited administrative procedures including that names and addresses will never be brought back together with other Census data.
  3. Destruction strategy. Names and addresses will only be retained while they hold significant value. Consistent with the Australian Privacy Principles, the case for retention will be periodically reviewed and data will be destroyed if there is not a compelling case for retention.
  4. Methodological best practice. The ABS has a long history on engaging locally and internationally to implement and shape best practice in privacy protections associated with personal information. [9]
  5. Transparent accountability mechanisms. The ABS Chief Methodologist is responsible for reviewing and ensuring ABS data access practices reflect international standards and best practice. The Chief Methodologist is also responsible for advising the Australian Statistician on methodologies and tools that ensure ABS’ legislative requirements to ensure no personal information is released in a manner likely to enable identification are met.


Need further information?

More information on the safeguards placed on privacy are available in the ABS Privacy policy. Further information on how the 2016 Census will protect your privacy is also available on the Privacy, Confidentiality and Security Census page


End notes
  1. 2006 Census of Population and Housing – Enhancing the Population Census – Privacy Impact Assessment, 2005, para 7.10
  2. Accredited Integrating Authorities – ABS application summary
  3. Privacy Impact Assessment – Retention of Names and Addresses from 2016 Census, page 14
  4. C.W. Kelman, A. J. Bass & C. D. J. Holman, Research use of linked health data – a best practice protocol, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2002, p. 251.
  5. 2006 Census of Population and Housing – Enhancing the Population Census – Privacy Impact Assessment, 2005, para 7.10
  6. Cyber Attacks: Securing Agencies' ICT Systems, ANAO Audit Report No.50 2013–14
  7. 2006 Census of Population and Housing – Enhancing the Population Census – Privacy Impact Assessment, 2005, para 7.10
  8. 2006 Census of Population and Housing – Enhancing the Population Census – Privacy Impact Assessment, 2005, Chapter 7
  9. For example, UN Economic Commission for Europe Managing Statistical Confidentiality and Microdata Access Principles and Guidelines