1504.0 - Methodological News, Dec 2003  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 27/02/2004   
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Remote Access to ABS Microdata

The ABS has recently expanded its ability to provide microdata to external researchers. Access to confidentialised unit record files (CURFs) has historically been limited to basic information disseminated via CD-ROM. In response to demand for more detailed microdata, the ABS is now providing access to CURFs with expanded data via the Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL). These expanded CURFs are released only via the RADL, and contain extra data items and more detail than basic CURFs. Basic CURFs are available on CD-ROM and may also be accessed via the RADL.

The RADL was launched in November 2003. It is a web-based statistical tool which enables academics, researchers and other government agencies to carry out batch-mode statistical analysis from their desktops in remote locations. Access to the RADL is via the ABS website, with all RADL microdata, infrastructure and associated systems situated behind the ABS firewall.

Coupled with the ABS' desire to release CURFs is a requirement to protect the privacy and confidentiality of our data providers. Use of the RADL is therefore restricted to statistical use of the microdata and is subject to the following confidentiality protections and regulations.

  • Undertakings: RADL clients and their organisations must sign an undertaking. The undertaking is a legal document where the client describes their proposed analysis and agrees to comply with a set of microdata security principles.
  • Education: RADL Clients must read the Responsible Access to ABS Confidentialised Unit Record Files Training Manual to ensure that they understand their microdata security responsibilities.
  • Confidentialised Data: The microdata which are available on the RADL have been confidentialised to protect against the risk of spontaneous recognition. The confidentialisation process includes the removal of name and address information as well as any or all of: reduction of available detail; data swapping; perturbation; or removal of very unusual records.
  • Automatic Checks: The RADL automatically checks for large scale printing of unit record data, as well as the size of any output tables produced. In the future there will be differential print limits as well as sparsity checks on all output tables.
  • Audits: All RADL jobs and their associated files are logged and retained for auditing purposes. All programs are examined for compliance with RADL guidelines, and results are checked for identifying information. Clients are notified retrospectively if their programs have breached the guidelines, or if their results file must be kept secure, or destroyed.

As of November 2003 there were 31 organisations and 144 clients with RADL access. CURF access has steadily grown, with the National Health Survey 2001 Expanded CURFs being used most extensively. An expanded 1997 Time Use Survey CURF, the expanded 2001 Population Census Household Sample File, and the expanded 2002 National Health Survey (Indigenous) CURF are currently available via the RADL. The 1999-2000 Income and Housing Costs Survey Basic CURF is also available via the RADL and also on CD-ROM. Other CURFs to be released via the RADL over the next six months include basic and expanded CURFs from the 2002 General Social Survey, and the CURF from the 2002 Crime and Safety Survey. For information on these new files refer to the Access to CURFs pages on the ABS web site (www.abs.gov.au).

For more information, please contact: Dale Wallace on (02) 6252 7313.

Email: d.wallace@abs.gov.au