news Nick Xenophon, Independent Senator for South Australia, has said he will fight for the right to privacy by refusing to provide his name in the 2016 census, despite the risk of prosecution the protest will bring.
Saying he does not take the step “lightly”, Xenophon said: “I do so in full knowledge that I may face prosecution under the Census and Statistics Act of 1905, and that currently involves a fine of $180 per day that is cumulative for every day of non-compliance.”
Writing on his blog, the senator said he plans to contest any attempt at legal notice relating to his lack of compliance and, by so doing, aims to turn it into a “test case of the validity of this request”.
Xenophon will in the meantime be seeking amendments to Section 14 of the Act, so that people cannot be prosecuted for failing to provide their name.
“In other words it will ensure such information is unambiguously non-compulsory,” he said.
Describing his reasons for the protest, he wrote: “First and foremost, privacy matters”, citing a description of privacy as “an inherent human right and requirement for maintaining the human condition with dignity and respect”.
Acknowledging that the right to privacy “must be measured against public interest considerations”, such as national security and public safety, he suggested that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), has not made a “compelling case why names must be provided, and stored for four years”.
Further, he cited a source suggesting the ABS is investigating commercial opportunities that could arise from selling the data to private companies,
“[U]nlike any other census in this nation’s history since that first census on the 2nd of April 1911, all names will be turned into a code that ultimately can be used to identify you,” he said.
Xenophon described the consultation process that led to the situation as “woeful” and “lacking transparency”, adding that it has “also come about because the government has either been wilfully clueless or recklessly indifferent to the risk this census poses to our privacy”.
In the blog post, he raised NSW Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Coombs’ warning in The Daily Telegraph of “a range of risks, not just the misuse” of the information provided in the census.
Coombs added that people may lie on their census forms due to a fear their data may be misused.
The senator said that he intends write to both the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, as well as “crossbench colleagues”, to seek their support for the amendment, which he pointed out “will need to be made retrospective to Census night”.
“The government should be requesting our consent, rather than requiring our names through coercion,” Xenophon said. “Australians expect the rule of law, not ruled by law.”
“This is a battle worth fighting,” he said.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting