Govt refuses to make name entry voluntary in Census

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Govt refuses to make name entry voluntary in Census

Won't implement additional privacy controls.

The federal government has knocked back recommendations to increase privacy controls around the linking of Census data to other government datasets, and to make the provision of names in the Census voluntary.

Last November the senate economics references committee tabled its report into last year's online Census, making 16 recommendations intended to avoid a repeat of the technology disaster.

Committee members Richard Di Natale of the Greens, alongside the Nick Xenophon Team's Nick Xenophon and Stirling Griff, added their own individual three recommendations to the list.

The NXT MPs called for a legislative change to make the provision of names in the Census voluntary, and for a requirement that the ABS get parliamentary approval before linking Census data to any other dataset across government.

Di Natale pushed for a privacy impact assessment to be undertaken into how Census data was managed following the August 2016 bungle.

The calls were a response to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' decision to collect and use citizens' names and addresses for the first time in 2016 in order to link Census data with other government datasets.

It pledged to destroy the information after four years, but keep anonymised versions of the details, created to enable the linkage, indefinitely.

The plan, which was quietly announced in late 2015, was met with a large public backlash over privacy and security concerns.

Xenophon and Greens MPs were among a number of people who said they would not enter their names into the Census in protest over the data collection and matching plans.

However, the government today knocked back all three of the MPs' suggestions.

In its response to the committee report [pdf], the government said the ABS would not be able to provide a high-quality Census without people's names.

The government argued that the ABS was already transparent about its use of data linkage, and said existing legislation provided strong protections for the use of Census data.

It also claimed the ABS had been subject to strong external scrutiny about the management of personal information since last year's Census, and had committed to destroy collected names and addresses by 2020 following community concerns - negating the need for a privacy impact assessment.

The government said the ABS had already pledged that any new significant changes to its handling of personal information would first be subject to a privacy impact assessment alongside broad consultation.

It accepted and noted the majority of the committee's 16 recommendations, many of which it had already agreed to as part of its response to the damning MacGibbon review.

Just one committee request - that the government help the ABS fill senior positions left vacant for more than six months - was knocked back, with the government arguing that was not its role.

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