Inquiry to scrutinise Census bungle

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Inquiry to scrutinise Census bungle

MPs agree to investigate.

 A parliamentary committee will investigate the circumstances that led to the shutdown of the 2016 Census earlier this month as well as the privacy implications of the ABS' new data usage policy.

The Senate today passed a motion by independent Nick Xenophon to refer the Census IT and privacy problems to the economics reference committee for investigation and report by November 24 this year.

The terms of reference for the inquiry span the decisions made by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the lead up to the August 9 poll, as well as the factors contributing to its shutdown and the contractual arrangements the agency has with its IT suppliers. IBM developed and hosted the Census application.

The ABS said it was forced to take the site offline on the night of August 9 following a series of DDoS attacks combined with the failure of the network geoblocking function and the collapse of a router.

Experts have questioned this explanation, saying the problems were more likely caused by a lack of proper planning and bad decisions.

The inquiry will also study the "scope, collection, retention, security and use of data obtained in the 2016 Census" and the privacy concerns that have resulted from the ABS' decision to retain names and addresses so it can link Census data with other government datasets.

Nick Xenophon was one of a handful of MPs to highlight privacy concerns with the 2016 Census prior to the August 9 survey date.

He said he would refuse to provide his name to the national survey in protest over the ABS' decision to retain and use citizens' names and addresses. The details will be turned into a linkage key so cross-government datasets can be collected.

"...  the ABS has failed to make a compelling case why names must be provided, and stored for four years, and unlike 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," Xenophon said in the days before the survey.

 Greens senator Scott Ludlam, who supported the motion, today said it was appropriate that the senate had taken the first opportunity to undertake a "rigorous inquiry" into the meltdown.

"We want to make sure that the technical failures on Census night - while important - do not overshadow the trouble the Census was already in," Ludlam said.

The parliamentary committee inquiry will also look into the ABS' funding allocation and its ministerial oversight and responsibility.

The ABS is already the subject of a review by the Prime Minister's cyber security advisor Alastair MacGibbon over the Census meltdown.

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