2903.0 - How Australia Takes a Census, 1996  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 30/04/1996   
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Contents >> Confidentiality



Any information collected in the 1996 Census that could be used to identify individuals will be treated as confidential. This confidentiality is guaranteed by the Census and Statistics Act.

All ABS staff (including temporary employees) are legally bound under the Census and Statistics Act never to release personal information to any person or organisation outside the ABS. Anyone who breaks this pledge can be fined up to $5,000 and/or gaoled for up to two years even if they are no longer employed by the ABS.


Completed census forms will be transferred from the collection centres to the census Data Processing Centre under secure arrangements. Security personnel will be employed to prevent any unauthorised access to the processing centre.

Names and addresses of people and households collected in the census will not be stored on computer files. No information will be released in a way that would enable an individual or household to be identified. To ensure this, the statistical tables released will only contain broad classifications and will be subject to slight random adjustment. (See the chapter on Quality.)


To assure the public about preserving the confidentiality of data on individuals, census forms in Australia are destroyed once statistical data have been extracted.

The purpose of the census is to gather statistical information, which is accompanied by strict measures to ensure the confidentiality of the information provided. The Government believes that it would be inconsistent with that purpose and with that guarantee of confidentiality to retain information on identified people or households. Consequently, the past practice of destroying all records of names and addresses of people and households, and of not storing these names and addresses on computer files, will be continued.

The decision not to retain information on identified people and households was reached by the Government after arguments for and against their retention had been carefully weighed. A relevant factor was the fear that public confidence in the census and hence the willingness of individuals to provide full and accurate information about themselves, could be undermined. A further consideration was the substantial costs which would be incurred in storing and accessing the records.


At the completion of processing, minor adjustments are made to data to protect the confidentiality of information about individuals while at the same time allowing the maximum amount of detailed census data to be released.

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