Our approach to privacy, confidentiality and security
We understand the importance of the data we collect and hold. We respect your data and take our duty to protect it very seriously.
We never release data that could be linked to you or identify you. We abide by the Australian Privacy Principles and our legislative requirements.
We understand that keeping your data secure means we need to continuously review our practices and procedures. We do this by working closely with Australian Government security and cyber-security agencies and seeking external privacy advice.
The ABS does not share personal information that could identify you or any other person. This is a legal requirement of the Census and Statistics Act.
Other organisations, including all government departments and direct marketing companies, cannot access the personal information you provide on your Census form.
In addition to the Act, the ABS complies with the Privacy Act 1988 and handles all personal information in accordance with the Australian Privacy Principles. The Australian Privacy Principles set out standards, rights and obligations in relation to handling, holding, accessing and correcting personal information.
Privacy is thoroughly considered during Census planning and operations and a privacy by design approach has already been adopted. Independent privacy experts, Galexia, has been selected to conduct a comprehensive privacy impact assessment in the lead up to the 2021 Census, commencing in the second half of 2019. They will identify and evaluate the potential privacy impacts of every stage of the Census and recommend ways to manage, minimise or eliminate these impacts. The privacy impact assessment will be published and publicly available by August 2020, one year ahead of the Census.
Keeping your data secure
Keeping your data secure is a high priority for the ABS. A critical feature of the Census, including the online form, is the high level of security protecting the privacy of personal information. The security measures in place have been, and will continue to be, independently tested and reviewed by security experts including from Government agencies such as the Australian Cyber Security Centre, and the private sector, to ensure that your personal information is secure.
ABS systems and processes are implemented in accordance with the Information Security Manual, which is part of the Australian Government's Protective Security Policy Framework.
Completed online and paper Census forms will be sent to a processing centre within the ABS that will operate within the Protective Security Policy Framework.
All Census data will be stored in Australia - the same as in all previous Censuses. Names and addresses will continue to be stored separately from other Census data.
When we release Census data, it is always anonymised and cannot be traced to any individual. We treat Census data in accordance with the internationally recognised Five Safes Framework.
Safe people as the detail in the data increases, the level of user authorisation increases.
Safe projects ensuring the data is being used for an appropriate purpose; that is, for statistical and research work only.
Safe settings ensuring that data access and use occurs in a transparent way.
Safe data data is always released in ways that make it exceptionally unlikely that individuals can be identified.
Safe outputs this is a final check on information before it is made public to ensure identifying information is not released. For example, in the ABS DataLab, statistical experts do a thorough check before outputs leave the DataLab environment.
Why we collect names and addresses
Names and addresses have been collected as part of every Census since 1911 and are a critical part of ensuring the quality and value of the Census. They will be stored securely and separately from one another. Names are collected in the Census for many reasons, including:
• encouraging the person completing the form to provide the right information for each person in the household
• enabling important research such as more accurate estimation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy
• allowing our post-enumeration survey to assess the quality of the data (a post-enumeration survey is a short survey run in the month after the Census, to determine how many people were missed or counted more than once, and to independently assess completeness of the Census).
Addresses are collected in the Census for many reasons, including:
• to minimise missing households, as the Census collects data on the key characteristics of people as well as the dwellings in which they live
• to produce accurate population estimates for regions, which inform the distribution of government funds and for electoral purposes
• to enable the development of a higher quality ABS Address Register, which is used widely to develop better survey processes, and improve processes and systems for the next Census
• the ability to release data for geographic areas, such as postal areas, states and territories, capital cities, towns, remote areas and many more
• to provide insights on the internal migration of people within Australia as well as the ability to measure travel distances to work).
The Australian Statistician committed to destroying names and addresses from the 2016 Census when there was no longer any community benefit to their retention, or four years after collection, whichever was earliest.
In line with this commitment, names collected in the 2016 Census have already been destroyed in 2019.
Addresses from the 2016 Census are required for longer. Census addresses are integral to creation of population statistics for different levels of geography (e.g. state, city, town and suburb) which inform local services, electoral boundaries, state and territory funding and business decisions.
Every Census, we create new data processing systems to manage the information collected from the approximately nine million Census forms returned by the Australian community, and to help develop that data into statistics.
In advance of the 2021 Census, we are using 2016 addresses to test these new processing systems to make sure they can:
• handle the large volumes of complex address information
• use addresses to accurately map data to a geographic location such as a town or suburb.
The address information collected in 2016 will be destroyed by August 2020 at the latest, consistent with past commitments.
Consultation on how long names and addresses should be kept
The ABS will seek views on the length of time we should keep names and addresses from the 2021 Census. This decision will be informed by the independent privacy impact assessment including consultation with members of the community, privacy experts and other stakeholders. This process will commence in late 2019.
Anonymised names and encoded addresses are also used for data integration purposes. Data integration is where two or more separate sources of data are combined in a safe and secure way to create new information. By combining Census data with other survey and administrative data, we can provide a richer statistical picture of Australia.
Combining Census data with other data can help answer important questions about communities, families, our environment and the economy that no single dataset can answer. For example:
• Healthcare: Healthcare services for vulnerable people can be designed and targeted more effectively due to a greater understanding of the backgrounds and living conditions of people accessing these services.
• Employment opportunities: Training and employment support programs can be informed by how family background and different educational choices influence outcomes for students.
• Access to education: The data be used to examine whether government support payments and programs for students are improving educational access and outcomes for students.
Importantly, data integration combines, or links, information from different sources while protecting the privacy and security of information. Information is only combined in a secure environment within the ABS, by a dedicated team. Only aggregate information will be released from the ABS environment, subject to strict confidentiality treatments. The ABS will never release information in a manner likely to enable the identification of a person or organisation.
More information about ABS data integration is available on our website.