Friday, 19 August 2016 07:47

Census 2016: Greens seek govt assurance on penalties Featured

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Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam is not resiling from his census day announcement that the Greens would introduce amendments when parliament returned "to ensure that people acting to protect their privacy in response to the census will not be fined, and to prevent the ABS from entrenching individual 'linkage keys' that track every citizen for their lifetime".

However, the West Australian said the party would prefer if the federal government and the Australian Bureau of Statistics acknowledged that problems with the census had eroded Australians' trust in the five-yearly population count and took steps to ensure that fines were not levied on citizens for taking steps to guard their privacy.

The census was supposed to be held on 9 August with 60% of the population expected to complete it online. However the ABS took the site offline at 7.30pm, claiming that it had done so due to repeated distributed denial of service attacks.

More than a week later, just half of the Australian households have completed the census, as per information from the ABS on Thursday.

In December last year, the ABS decided that names and addresses of people would be retained indefinitely and linked to their data. Later, ABS chief David Kalisch backed down and said the retention would be for four years.

Scott Ludlam.

Standing firm: Scott Ludlam. Photo: courtesy The Greens.

Ludlam, along with his Greens colleagues Sarah Hanson-Young, Lee Rhiannon, Janet Young and Larissa Waters, had said on the day of the census that they would be withholding their names when filling in their census forms.

South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, who heads his own party, and Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie joined the five Greens, saying they were not convinced the census did not present a security risk.

Asked on Thursday whether he had spoken to other MPs in connection with his census day statement, Ludlam responded: "We'd much prefer that the government and the ABS acknowledge that the multiple problems with the census eroded Australians' trust in the process, and take the necessary steps to assure people that they will not be penalised for taking steps to protect their own privacy.

"The changes to the census should never have proceeded without thorough, transparent independent assessment."

He added: "The ABS should abandon the linkage key process for this census. Perhaps after civil society advocates and experts have closely examined the changes, Australians will feel more reassured. More likely, this independent assessment will find that the linkage key poses a significant threat to privacy and changes the character of the census in ways that make participation less likely."

A proposal to link names was considered for the 2006 census but dropped after a privacy impact report, by privacy expert Nigel Waters, advised strongly against it.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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