Retention of names and addresses collected in the 2016 Census of Population and Housing

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has decided to retain names and addresses collected in the 2016 Census of Population and Housing in order to enable a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia through the combination of Census data with other survey and administrative data.

Whilst the Census has always been valuable in its own right, when used in combination with other data the Census can provide even greater insight. Some examples are:

    • The combination of Census data and education data can provide insight into employment outcomes from the various educational pathways available to Australians, and
    • The combination of Census data and health data can help improve Australia’s understanding and support of people who require mental health services and assist with the design of better programs of support and prevention.
The retention of addresses will also support the ABS Address Register enabling more efficient survey operations, reducing the cost to taxpayers and the burden on Australian households.

This decision has been informed by public submissions, public testing and the conduct of a Privacy Impact Assessment.

What about privacy?

The ABS is committed to the protection of the privacy and confidentiality of everyone who completes the Census. In order to assess this proposed change, the ABS commissioned a full Privacy Impact Assessment in order to identify privacy, confidentiality and security considerations, and assess strategies in place to mitigate any risks.

The Privacy Impact Assessment assessed the level of risk to personal privacy, considering the protections in place, as very low. The risks identified are mitigated by storing names and addresses separately from other Census data as well as separately from each other. The risks are further mitigated by governance and security arrangements the ABS already has in place. These arrangements were found to robustly manage data, protect privacy and guard against misuse of information.

The retention of names and addresses collected in the 2016 Census is consistent with the functions of the ABS prescribed in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act 1975 and compliant with all the provisions in the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the Privacy Act 1988, including the Australian Privacy Principles.

How will the ABS safeguard names and addresses?

The ABS has legal obligations to keep data secure and ensure that it does not disclose identifiable information about a person, household or business.

The ABS has been accredited as a safe environment for statistical data integration projects. The ABS will use well-established governance infrastructure and procedures to manage the approval, conduct and review of statistical data integration projects using Census data.

To secure Census data, the ABS will remove names and addresses from other personal and household information after data collection and processing. Names and addresses will be stored separately and securely. No-one working with the data will be able to view identifying information (name and address) at the same time as other Census information (such as occupation or level of education).

Addresses and anonymised versions of names will only be used for projects approved by a senior-level committee, and will be subject to strict information security provisions.

The ABS complies with the mandatory requirements established by the Australian Commonwealth Protective Security Policy Framework, which include implementing governance, physical, and information security measures to protect data held by the ABS. Key measures to safeguard information include strong encryption of data and all staff access is logged, monitored, and restricted on a need-to-know basis.

The ABS will conduct regular audits of the protection mechanisms, and the use and the need for ongoing retention of Census names and addresses. For the 2016 Census, the ABS will destroy names and addresses when there is no longer any community benefit to their retention or four years after collection (i.e. August 2020), whichever is earliest.

How will people know about the ABS’ plans?

The ABS is completely transparent around the collection, protection and use of data. The ABS has published the Privacy Impact Assessment and the decision to retain names and addresses. The ABS publishes its approach to conducting the Census in “Nature and Content of Census 2016” and in “How Australia Takes a Census”.

All Census forms will provide information about how to access the Census Privacy Statement. This Privacy Statement will clearly communicate our plans to retain and use names and addresses. There will also be information available through Census field officers, the Census Inquiry Service and online help materials.

The ABS also publishes details of every statistical data integration project that it conducts on its website.

More information on this decision is available on the Census Privacy, Confidentiality and Security page.