Response to reports about use of aggregate level telco data

26 April 2018

The ABS has not tracked or conducted surveillance on any Australian.

The ABS received aggregate level telecommunications data from a telecommunications company to inform estimates of temporary populations. No individual information was provided to the ABS. Only aggregated counts of mobile telephone transactions were supplied in broad geographical areas.

The information was supplied to the ABS under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905. The ABS is bound by the secrecy requirements of this Act and is also subject to the Privacy Act 1988. Under this legislation, the ABS is bound to maintain the secrecy of information collected and protect people's confidentiality.

The ABS conducted a pilot study in 2016 to develop temporary population estimates as part of ongoing efforts to use existing available data, rather than obtaining it directly from the population. This is accepted, common practice in many overseas countries.

The pilot was conducted in the Australian Capital Region (the ACT and surrounds). Many of the people who use the services and infrastructure in Canberra do not reside in the ACT, yet Commonwealth funding is allocated to states and territories based on its usual resident population, not its service population.

Obtaining better information on daytime/night-time and weekday/weekend population numbers would give policy makers a greater understanding of these service populations to better inform population-based funding decisions in areas such as health, education, transport, and in areas with fly-in, fly-out populations.

While the ABS has publicly presented the findings of this pilot, it will also soon release a detailed information paper about this project on its website.