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.

Q5 If you have not and do not intend to fill in the 2016 Census please share your reasons.

This question was optional and applied only to those who had not filled out the census. 284 people offered responses to this question which is just over half of all survey respondents. As is obvious above, privacy was an almost universal concern influencing response rates to the 2016 census. Security was also a concern of the majority of non-respondents. A smaller group have been unable to complete the census due to technical failures in implementation by the ABS.

Within the larger theme of privacy concerns are those with specific personal concerns eg victims of domestic violence and those concerned others may be targeted using census data at some future point due to health/disability, gender, relationship, religious or ethnic status.

The concern that matching census data with administrative data sets means that this is no longer a 'census' ie information used only for statistical purposes was expressed.

98 comments provided under 'other/please specify'

A general protest at the growth of data matching- without any meaningful conversation about it in public.

ABS arrogance in not addressing legitimate concerns

ABS gives me no confidence in their capabilities- nor comfort they are concerned about the issues

ABS is not complying with the Act. And it has shown that it it IT technically incompetent.

ABS lie that it is compulsory when Sect 10 (3) of Census Act active. It is not compulsory. Form and website lie. ABS cannot be trusted.

Absolutely do not trust any government with that much crossmatchable information - now and especially in the future.

After the big stuff up on census night- I can't feel safe filling it out.

All data held by the state will eventually be used against the citizenry.

Also was overseas!

Arrogance and lies from the ABS

Arrogance of ABS

Arrogance of ABS and LNP regarding the public's legitimate privacy concerns was another dealbreaker

As far as Im aware- many dollars are being spent on a campaign and workforce to deliver info and harry people to comply...if I need to chase up the paperwork myself what the hell are all those people being paid for out of my tax dollars!

being tracked esp medical records being linked and the risk of personal information being publicly available to god know who

Biggest concern is the linking of all possible data sets and what will be done with that data. Once linked it is linked forever. Any protection we have under law now will change as the law is changed in future.

Changing the census from a snapshot to a lifelong digitial record of all my digital info (medical- govn- etc)

Civil liberties concerns - the change to the census is actually an attack on human rights and free will.

Concerns for purity of statistics with names & other identifiers.

Data linkage

Data matching by government/file generation for citizens

Data should not be sold by the ABS/government for commercial purposes of ANY type. This data is not just about us. It is US and it is OURS.

did complete- but left name and address off for these reasons

Didn't work on the night. Haven't got back to it.

Disrespect for public concerns

Disrespect of public concern

Do not want name and address linked to data. Happy to fill in census if data remains anonymous.

extreme right wing governments that are completely alien to this country

Fear of being 'Tracked' by government/s

Fear. DV victim with suppressed ABN and Business Registration (ATO and ASIC approved)- silent elector status (AEC approved). I cannot risk being found...

General lack of trust with ABS that they will use my data in an ethical manner.

Gross lying and mis-information about how the ABS and federal government intends to use census data especially since so much private and personal details are requested.

Have not received it

Haven't decided if I will complete it.

I actually cannot even start it

I am a privileged wealthy WASP. I can afford to protest on behalf of those who cannot.

I am not filling it out accurately because of privacy concerns

I do not intend to supply details for an SLK. This is so simple that I broke the code in under three minutes. Once that is done- it is pitifully easy to work out who is who. I was not asked- nor did I give my permission for this to happen. Since then I've done a bit of research- and discovered that in fact- the linkage between us and our census data actially began two census ago. Our details were kept and linked together. This one has been planned to be the biggie. Kalisch has been planning this for some time- and if successful- the data from this census will potentially make him the most powerful person in Australia. That's why he is being paid more than the PM.

I do not trust the ABS because they lie

I don't trust the whole idea of an SLK. ABS have a poor history of data security. Their past history of keeping slk from last census for 5% of us was underhand & sneaky

I have no faith in the ABS' ability to de-identify my data. I don't want it going to 3rd parties- the whole Census was a clusterfuck from the way people's concerns were dealt with in the lead up to it- to the actual Census night and beyond.

I have not seen a compelling reason to include names or to use unique and persistant IDs linking names and data.

I haven't yet decided what to do.

I refuse to participate in something that may be used to marginalise others in the future

I still have time- and the gov might change their mind- re fines for no names

I sure was tempted to use another name

I think any changes that will significant impact on the potential privacy of citizens should be discussed clearly and at length in the public domain and should only be implemented if there is a clear mandate of support. The ABS clearly is stocked with data nerds lacking any empathy to the legitimacy of the concerns in the community on whose cooperation they rely.

I used to love doing the census. Not anymore. The clown now in charge has rendered the data set useless. Absolute custard duck from the get go.

I used to trust the ABS. Their sneaky pre-Xmas announcement- their inadequate internal 'review' and their bullying threats to fine people so they can create a lasting personal record has caused my test to evaporate. They have wrecked the trust that made the census work.

I was Forbidden

I was ready to complete on Census night. ABS weren't and have missed their window when I may have been prepared to do it. Also- am not satisfied with ABS capability to secure private data

I went to NZ for the night as it was cheaper than the fines.

I will be a 'conscientious objector' in an effort to make the government realise it must consult the public before it makes decisions that affect our personal rights and freedoms. The government has been deceptive regarding the changes to the 2016 census.

I've seen the paper form and there's no really valuable data there - by linking you to other data sources they are indulging in mass surveillance of the entire population

inadequate consultation- no media or public awareness- concerns that focus groups have been used to make complex and significant decisions regarding the retention of names and addresses for the purposes of data linkage rather than experts

incompetence of ABS led me to believe others' concerns re privacy & security.

It is a protest against public concerns being disregarded and threats of fines being made. I have seen several elderly people afraid of being fined if they were even a day late. Will fill it in if I am directly told to- but will not give names.

It's just none of their damn business

It's not a census- it's not a snap shot- it's run by a private US company- it's evil- there are no safeguards.

Just wanted to add that I'm still not sure whether I will complete the census...

Lack of informed consent

Lack of transparency about how data will be tracked and potentially sold.

Lack of trust in ABS

Lack of trust in an organisation which sneaks through these changes without proper consultation- then bullies citizens with misleading threats of fines (knowing that most will not read the legislation and regulations and see their bluff). The well-reported technical and organisational incompetences also destroy trust- made worse by the leaders' apparent lack of awareness of their incompetence.

Legal concerns

Linkage keys esp connected to health records

Making the decision on behalf of my teens who are Aboriginal and thus more likely to be harassed by govt

May complete it without identifying myself

Most people (including the media - no surprise there- them being drip-fed their careers by government) are missing the issue. Government directed ABS to use a census (compulsory) to obtain our names (not compulsory)- and attach an SLK to every one of us (way beyond the scope of all previous census'). An SLK which government intends to use at some point- to bring all data into one location- accessible by all departments (and anyone else they deem fit to access it). It should be MY decision who sees MY data. Not theirs. Separation between government departments should not only remain firmly in place- but be further separated. (Not just 'section off' parts of the same database using different clearance levels. e.g. Hospitals not being able to see ATO info- and ATO not seeing medical info.) Because as this debacle (and multiple other security breaches in other departments prove)- government is incapable of being a trusted caretaker of our personal data. ABS attempted to deceive in order to obtain something they neither sought- not had legal go ahead to take. ABS claims they will separate the SLK from the data. But anyone with basic knowledge can reconnect the dots. Additionally- if data needs to be secured in such ways- then obviously it isn't safe for government collect and retain it in the first place. Census was meant to be only slightly more invasive than a simple head count. ABS instead has turned census into the Australia Card - once again - which Australians have given a clear NO to several times. Government asked us- we said no- they asked again- we said no again- so they said- Stuff you lot - you're going to have it- like it or not - how can we sneak it in? By implying names and SLK are compulsory- by attaching them to a compuslory census. THIS is why people have refused. NOT because a computer crashed- even though most media is putting that spin on it at the direction of government.


No need for names to provide demographic data.

No recognition is same sex parents in the options given. We are two women with children and were told to fill it out like one of us is the father

Non-disclosure RE: use of data via stat link code

None of your businesd

Not personal concern. I was worried that census collectors personal phones were used & they weren't necess safe people- was concerned for single women living alone. I'm also concerned it may be misused against minority groups in future

over-reach with data linking this becomes longitudinal study that has not been adequately explained or sought consent for


Pointless now. Too late. And- security concerns.

Politics overturns data

Primarily due to the generation of an SLK particularly for my children which will pervade for rest of life. No one can anticipate legislative or technological changes in the future- even if data is 'secure'- and not being 'abused'- now.

Really uncomfortable with dataset linking into the future (and the past) i never consented. Other than that im pro census so its a bit sad its come to this...

scope creep

Serious concerns about the planned statistical linkage key and association with Medicare data ect




SLK number that follows you for life?? no not happening. It's a back door mandatory Australia card. I will take my chances on getting fined.

Statistical Linkage Key

Technically it's not a Census

The 2016 Census feels far more like a duplicitous covert operation in support of creeping techno-fascism than an honest gathering of facts to support good democratic governance. As a previous census supporter- I'm both appalled and frightened by the future this development suggests we're heading toward. The ABS should only deal with statistics- not be transformed in ongoing population surveillance agency..

The ability for future (and current) governments to identify and segregate large parts of the population based on undesireable traits

The absolute contempt shown by the government and ABS to people's genuine concerns- and thuggery of collectors

The arrogant contempt shown for the Australian people- lying- asscovering nonsense given as reasons for what was a predictable overload of the system and the threats of fining me for their mistakes. The emerging vague info about datamatching and use of my data. The absence of any reasonable solutions presented by ANY political leaders (ie CEO or PM could advise that Names are now optional- please complete it -so sorry we screwed up) Frankly they not got my back up and I have traditionally been a great supporter of the census.

They refused to answer an FOI on the linkage key system in use

unlawful questions concerning race religion

We need ethical limits on the linked data analyses the ABS may perform for companies in the future.

With today's technology- almost all data collected can be collected via other sources. No longer relevant

Don't trust government

I will but without certain details. Or I may say that I posted it- & wonder why they didn't get it. Bloody Aust Post ;-) Haven't made up my mind yet.

trust SLK link consultation women victim consent data arrogance track lie

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