Responsible use of ABS microdata

Understand your obligations and manage microdata safely, as a user, Contact Officer or Responsible Officer

Released
8/11/2021

About microdata

Microdata is data in a unit record file that provides detailed information about people, households, businesses or other types of records. The ABS provides access to microdata collected through ABS surveys, censuses, administrative data and integrated data from a range of sources. Microdata is used to support informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community. It is particularly useful for researchers and analysts who want to conduct in-depth analysis of the data.

Microdata is used to undertake data manipulations requiring individual unit record data reflecting the diversity within a population. Typical applications include: 

  • production of papers, journal articles, books, PhD theses
  • microsimulation
  • modelling
  • conducting detailed analyses
  • producing detailed tabulations in a disaggregated form

Microdata is released at the discretion of the Australian Statistician after an assessment process conducted by the ABS. The ABS has protections in place to ensure microdata access is managed to maintain the confidentiality of individuals and businesses, as required under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and Census and Statistics (Information Release and Access) Determination 2018. This is fundamental to the trust the Australian public has in the ABS, and that trust is essential to the excellent quality of ABS information. Without that trust, survey respondents may be less forthcoming or truthful in answering our questionnaires. For more information, see 'Avoiding inadvertent disclosure' and 'Microdata' on our web page How the ABS keeps your information confidential.

In response to the legislative requirement for the Australian Statistician to release microdata ‘in a manner that is not likely to enable the identification of the individual', the ABS:

  • removes all directly identifying information such as names and addresses
  • ensures data items are unlikely to identify respondents by the application of a range of confidentialisation methods
  • checks for records with uncommon combinations of responses, and may alter them slightly to ensure individuals cannot be identified

In addition, we place restrictions on how you may use some types of microdata. These restrictions are set out in the Undertaking signed by each organisation's Responsible Officer, and for some data services in an individual undertaking which is signed by the microdata user. Each individual must agree to the conditions of accessing and using ABS microdata when submitting an application.

Types of microdata

TableBuilder

TableBuilder uses highly detailed underlying microdata to allow you to produce your own tables, graphs and maps. The outputs are aggregated and confidentalised automatically, so you can access your results immediately. As users cannot access the microdata records directly, some microdata obligations, such as undertakings, do not apply.

Basic microdata

Basic microdata is the least detailed type of microdata. You can download basic microdata from MicrodataDownload to use in your own environment. Individual data items in basic microdata are likely to be at broader levels of their classification than detailed microdata.

Detailed microdata

Detailed microdata is accessible in the secure DataLab. Records are de-identified and confidentialised appropriately within the context of the other security features of the DataLab, and contain highly detailed data items. For example, where a basic microdata might report an age classification in five-yearly increments, a detailed microdata file may include month and year of birth.

Applying for microdata and TableBuilder

You must apply for access as a member of your organisation. If you are supervising a research project and will be viewing or discussing unit record information or uncleared DataLab output, you also need to be approved to access the relevant microdata product.

Microdata access may be provided to approved Australian organisations including Federal Government, State and Territory governments, universities, non-profit and commercial organisations. Microdata access for international organisations is considered on a case-by-case basis. An individual who is not associated with an organisation may apply for access to microdata. In practice most microdata users are members of an organisation.

The ABS/Universities Australia Agreement provides a range of ABS products and services including microdata to members of participating Australian universities. Students, staff and researchers at participating universities will not be invoiced for TableBuilder and MicrodataDownload, which are fully covered by the agreement. Some DataLab access charges apply but have been subsidised under the agreement.

Privacy

The ABS privacy policy outlines how the ABS handles any personal information that you provide to us.