ABS releases findings of Census Privacy Impact Assessments

Media Release
Released
21/07/2020

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today welcomed the findings of two independent Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) looking at the way the 2021 Census will be run.

The PIAs examined how the ABS will collect, manage and use personal information in the Census.

Their release reflects the ABS’ enduring commitment to protecting peoples’ privacy. It also aligns with recommendations made by two inquiries into the 2016 Census, to undertake an independent PIA a year out from the 2021 Census.

The 2021 Census Privacy Impact Assessment, conducted by Galexia, recognised the ABS’ strong investment in privacy, and made a number of recommendations to complement existing privacy protections.

The ABS has agreed with all the recommendations, except for the one related to excluding the health question from the Census Time Capsule as participation in the Time Capsule is voluntary.

The ABS will action all recommendations, including those about retaining name and address information after the Census. In line with the recommendation from Galexia, the ABS intends to keep names for 18 months, and addresses for up to three years to support processing of Census data.

The PIA also made a number of recommendations about risk management, compliance with relevant legislation, codes and guidelines, and ways the ABS can continue to maintain a robust privacy approach for the 2021 Census and beyond.

A separate 2021 Census Administrative Data Privacy Impact Assessment, conducted by Information Integrity Solutions, looked at privacy impacts from the way the ABS uses information collected by other government agencies, businesses or other organisations.

The ABS is planning to make some limited use of administrative data to reduce the cost to taxpayers of running the Census, and improve Census operations and data quality.

This PIA found that the ABS has robust governance and privacy-enhancing arrangements in place. It recommends the ABS monitors ongoing privacy impacts of administrative data use, consults regularly, and communicates openly and clearly about its use.

ABS General Manager, Census Division, Chris Libreri said the ABS welcomed the findings of the PIAs.

“Protecting people’s privacy is a key priority for us,” Mr Libreri said.

“The ABS has been using a privacy-by-design approach from the beginning of this Census. This approach considers privacy in all aspects of Census planning and processes.

“We are addressing the recommendations identified in both Privacy Impact Assessments as part of our ongoing planning.

“Combined with legislation, strong risk management, governance and security strategies, we are ensuring that people’s privacy is considered at every stage of our preparations.

“We will do a separate privacy impact assessment for any other specific Census activities that require it and continue to consult widely as we move towards 2021,” Mr Libreri said.

The full PIA reports and ABS responses are on the ABS website abs.gov.au.

Media Notes

  • The Census Time Capsule refers to the option where people can choose to have a copy of their completed Census form stored by the National Archives of Australia and released after 99 years.
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