From Census to Surveillance

Forty years after the first attempts to de-anonymise the Australian census, in 2016 the government finally succeeded. This is the story of the forty year struggle against efforts to turn the Australian census from a population snapshot into cradle-to-grave surveillance and the public response.

Q8 At the time of announcement and consultation (November 11- December 18 2015), were you aware that the ABS had changed the approach to privacy for the 2016 Census and that you understood what this meant for yourself or others?

This question was required and had only two options: Yes and No. A clear majority of respondents believed that not enough was done to inform the public of the consultation last November or to educate people about the implications of the consultation.

Given that there was not a single mainstream media report (see media) on the consultation or the decision that followed less than six weeks later, it is the opinion of the author that if the broader population were to receive education on the changes to the 2016 census and the manner in which the decision was made that similar response patterns could be expected.

Obviously, people have to be aware that there have been changes to how their data will be used in the 2016 census for them to be able to provide an informed opinion on whether they were aware of the implications during the consultation period late last year.

Rather than inform and educate people once the issue did hit the headlines in the lead up to the census, the ABS chose to mislead the media and public with comments to the effect that no major changes had occurred.

Please see the sections on Historical Background and Data Linkage to get some context on why these claims by the ABS and reiterated in the main stream media are specious and deceptive.