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.

Q6 If you did fill in the 2016 Census please share your reasons.

This question was not required and received 279 responses with 101 choosing to add a comment under 'other'.

A majority of those who did fill out the census (in itself a minority of respondents to this survey), stated they filled out the census more out of fear than any positive reason. A smaller percentage filled it out because they believed the value of the census outweighs privacy concerns or that there were no valid privacy concerns. Even for those who did respond to this question, it is clear that filling in the census and filling in every question is not the same thing. This has implications for the quality of census data and is directly relevant to the Inquiry's Terms of Reference b), e) & f).

Responses stating that they did not fill in the census have been removed from this output as the question was about the opinions of people who had filled it in. I also removed a couple of swear words from one of the responses.

It is notable that even where people have filled out the census, the majority of comments indicate this was done despite misgivings about privacy and use of the census data. Having no concern at all for the privacy arrangements of the 2016 census is mentioned rarely in the #CensusFail survey. The fact that whether survey respondents did or did not fill in the census that almost all respondents to the #CensusFail survey state concerns with privacy and misgivings about how census data will be used is evidence that there is a near universal concern among respondents.

Accidental compliance. I intended not to do it- my wife did it while I was working. I normally do this sort of stuff in our family and I had not told her then of my intention that we should refuse to do it (privacy concerns)

act of civil disobedience due to personal privacy issues and concerns re function creep/future uses of retained data - see Q4

adding to the 'no religion' count.

An anonymous census counting people per electorate is sufficient to fulfill the ABS's constitutional obligations. Collecting any other data (especially name and address) should be strictly voluntary.

And I think the so-called risk totally overblown

because otherwise these corrupt people will find me

Believe Census data is important and valid- but can't see any practical way of preventing privacy infringements in the short/medium term - so let's collect in 2016- and fight to protect in future years

Believe census is important so filled out truthfully just leaving name and address off

Believe in Census but not in provision personal information

Believe in the benefits- but not that they outweigh the risks- hence blank fields

Believe it's important but refused to provide identifying information

Both of the above but refused to comply with unreasonable demands.

Both options- but I am increasingly concerned for the 2021 census

Can't afford the fines

Can't hack the stress at the moment & I figure the gov already knows all about me anyway.

Census data minus name which isn't data. Data essential.

Census important so prepared to do it but withold name and addresses

census is very important- however I do not agree to ghaving my name being part of the dataset

Concern over upsetting the hosts I was staying with.


Data good- privacy & security bad

Data is important. Name is irrelevant.

Data other than my name and identifiable information are still important for governance.

Did not provide name

Don't distrust government in this function

Duplicity of abs re: data retention- selling population data

Evidence based policy matters- partial completion sends a clearer message than non-collection

Feel absolutely ferocious about them hijacking such an important public service and monetising it / us- but dare not risk fines. Would prefer jail- but fear they would garnishee pyments etc...

Filled in truthfully. Withheld name and street address.

Filled it out on my terms - agree the data is useful but don't want my personal info to be profiled / matched.


happy to provide non personal identifiable information.

Haven't decided if I will complete it.

I am a demographer and felt obligated but they really stuffed up and I don't approve with linking census data to other sources

I am not a citizen but a guest here. If I were a citizen I would have refused to participate- but...

I believe in the benefits of Census data but value my right to privacy so left my name and address blank

I believe in the benefits of the Census and am comfortable with the ABS' approaches to privacy and data integration

I believe in the benefits of the Census- but refused to provide name details.

I believe the census is important but I withheld my name and DOB due to privacy concerns

I believe the data is worthwhile- not for Govt- I reckon they ignore- but Local Govt & other community groups need it. So filled out all that info correctly- just not the personal identifiers.

I believe the demographic data is important- but my personal details are not. Therefore- I gave the correct demo data and removed any identifying data.

I believe this data is important but not my personal data- I don't trust the Gvt using it for commercial purposes- spy on me or for it to get into the wrong hands.

I can't afford to be fined- but I'm also a historian & queer/trans/disability activist and I think accurate data is terrifically important. It is however also very important that the data be handled sensitively.

I did not want to complete the census. My partner (a teacher) believed it was valuable in education planning so we completed it

I do not feel that census outweigh the risks to privacy in its current form. However- having withheld identifying information- I believe the benefits probably do outweigh the risks from undesired disclosure of my (unidentified) information (though lacking full information on the uses- I wouldn't say I've given properly informed consent).

I felt very conflicted about it but recognise the importance of the census although I hate how they went about collecting names this time

I filled it in however it didn't actually ask anything relevant and questions worded very poorly.

I have no issue with concept of the census- just its administration thisntime

I have not yet received our registration number nor recieved a paper form

I hoped the paper form would not have the same security issues

I omitted my name so I was comfortable providing the information

I only accurately answered the questions which I believe do not relate to my individual personal details. Statistical analysis is broadbrush and does not require my persoanl details to be collected and especially stored for cross matchingpurposes.

I only gave selective information

I still remain deeply concerned about using Census to leverage a WoG database- and it was only for future genealogical researchers (I opted for Archives) that I bothered to fill out at all

I think that post-code specific data can be very useful. But not name and specific address.

I think the worth of it is irreparably compromised due to poor management of Census. I use it in my work & regret the mess they made of it.

I thought it was a legal requirement to provide STATISTICALLY relevant information

I understand the benefits of teh census - future planning etc - but had to be convinced by family members to actually fill it in due to privacy concerns

I was somewhere in between doing it and not but didn't want to be nagged with follow ups so I did it

I work for the government and a conviction would end my public service career.

I'm a researcher - I use that data- my colleagues use it even more. It's this weird research karma thing - I want people to participate in my work so I participate in theirs. That's why I'm doing this too! :-)

I'm in a low risk demographic when it comes to negative consequences from government surveillance

I'm the control group. If it goes bun- then I can complain.

Incomplete for privacy

It serves some purpose but is drastically overreaching.

It used to be a worthy cause

Laziness. vs the bother of consequences for not doing so.

Most of the data is important to public policy- but not names.

My rental shares a title with another (hence same form) -- too complex to avoid

Never had a previous issue with Census data. This one prompted far too much for/against dialogue.

No external privacy review done prior to implementation

No privacy concerns and the ABS wants it

not a concern

Not adding my name reduced my privacy concerns and I do think the Census is important tool for targeting services.

Note that benefits outweigh risks only as I did not include name or address

nothing in the census that is sensitive

Only submitted with false name after census collectors came 2 days in a row

Other than the few strange creepy questions I answered with half-truths: there wasn't a lot I gave up that (name| address| income| ancestry etc). However I refuse to transmit this information to them online.

Partial response only

Partially filled out. Privacy concerns.

Possible fine. It's traditionally been something I have always done.

Saw no obvious issues - but 'knew' system would crash

Sick of the negativity around the 2016 Census - it's a very minor change to retention in order to make the data more useful- and ABS are fastidious about not releasing confidential information about individuals. Those of us who use the data regularly rely on a quality Census and too many people encouraging others not to fill it in will result in a poor quality dataset for the next 5 years.

Some of this info is beneficial. But I object to the onselling/sharing of this info to other agencies

Stats are good for planning - Identifyable information is irrelevant. Spiritual preference is irrelevant.

Still afraid of being fined for not supplying names

Still important to try and be counted so after weighing up privacy risk- decided to do it.

Support the census process for this reason- but not the retention of named data.

the census is still a valuable exercise.

The Data is valuable for planning- however my personal details are not necessary for a useful data set

The govt already has all this info.

There is a legitimate question about the ABS' power to require me to provide my name. The appropriate place for that to be resolved is the Ombudsman- not a Magistrates' Court

There is no information on the census form that isn't available already to almost any level of government. Parakeelia scandal for instance. If I was years younger I would have been more rebellious.

They need some data for planning services

Would have preferred less privacy intrusion

Believe that the census data is important but concerned about the risks to privacy and individual rights

Why in the hell not - the data is going to be useless anyway