news The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) has strongly criticised what it calls the “Orwellian” storage of census data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
At issue is the ABS’s “unilateral” decision to store all Australians’ name and address data collected in the 9 August census for four years.
“This is a change to its longstanding and widely supported policy not to keep that identifying information after the census was complete,” said the APF.
Furthermore, explained the APF in a statement, if someone refuses to comply with a direction to provide data, they will now incur a criminal fine of $100 per day until that data is forthcoming.
“The change was done in December without any meaningful consultation,” said the APF. “A key report was slipped out before Christmas Eve, with another change last week. It is a breach of trust, a high-handed and arrogant abuse of legislative power. This is a very different ABS to the one Australians used to know and trust.”
According to the APF, on 31 March, Gemma Van Halderen, General Manager at the ABS, told the organisation that the ABS was taking this direction because “technology has changed,” and “there has also been a shift in public perception and expectations about the use of their data”.
David Vaile from the APF said that Van Halderen’s claim that changes in technology and the “supposed” change in Australian’s attitudes would support a more privacy-intrusive approach by the ABS was “wrong”, and displayed “bad faith” with the Australian public.
“Changes in technology have, if anything, increased the risk, so the ABS decision to store our names and addresses for years is all the more worrying,” Vaile said. “It creates an irresistible ‘honeypot’ for hackers and cyber criminals in an age when no IT security can keep out ‘motivated intruders’.”
“Serious data breaches are now a real and increasing danger,” he continued. Retaining Name and Address will also attract the scores of agencies with powers of compulsory access to data … It may only need the stroke of a pen or a tweak of a regulation for the Government to use the data for other purposes, should it decide to do so.”
APF Vice Chair Kat Lane commented: “Australians value their privacy, they used to trust the ABS … They may be horrified to know that the name and address of everyone in their household will now be retained, without consent, so it is no longer anonymous.”
Creating a national database of every Australian’s personal information on a rolling four-year basis is a danger to privacy, said the APF, adding that it is an “intrusive overreach by a Government which seems increasingly contemptuous of the universal right to privacy and security of sensitive personal information”.
The APF called on the ABS to immediately reverse its “misconceived and dangerous” policy to store all Australians’ name and address data for years. If that does not happen, it said, the Minister with responsibility for the Bureau, Alex Hawke, should “rein in this rogue department”.
Additionally, it said, the recalled Parliament should pass the delayed Data Breach Notification law and the Privacy Tort law, giving Australians the right to be told if their data is breached, as well as legal protection “they could rely on”.