How To Dodge Census 2016 To Protect Your Privacy

How To Dodge Census 2016 To Protect Your Privacy

This year’s Census conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will not be anonymous. Your name and address information will be retained for up to four years. This new Census arrangement has privacy pundits up in arms. Yet, it’s compulsory for all Australian households to submit their information. So what should you do if you value your privacy and don’t want to fill out the Census form? Here are some suggestions on how to avoid it.

While the Government has tried to reassure the public that the personally identifiable information in this year’s Census will be kept safe, it has yet to provide an adequate reason as to why it’s collecting this data. It’s an extensive form that asks a lot of personal questions so it’s no surprise that privacy advocacy groups and industry experts have condemned this new approach to data collection.

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The sad thing about all of this is that the Census is compulsory and if you don’t fill it out, either online or by paper form, on August 9, you could face fines of $180 for each day that you’re late to submit the information.

While you can provide false information on the Census, it’s probably a route that you won’t want to take given that the statistics generated from the Census could potentially shape future policies and funding from the Government. Also, providing misleading information could incur a fine of up to $1800.

Sure sounds expensive to not fill out the Census, but how many people actually get fined? To put things in perspective, in 2011, 1282 notices were sent out to those who failed to provide information to the Census and only 78 prosecution actions were approved.

Is there a risk of getting fined if you don’t complete the Census? Yes. Is it a negligible risk? Well, that’s for you to decide.

Privacy adviser and IT security consultant Roger Clarke has made a list of ways to potentially avoid doing the Census, which has since been picked up by the Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA). He makes it clear that he neither encourages nor discourages any of the actions mentioned (we don’t either, for that matter), but it is some food for thought for those who really don’t want to complete the Census due to privacy concerns:

#1 Avoid being resident in any household on the Census date, Tuesday 9 August 2016 The Census is based on the premises, not the person, and hence if you aren’t resident you shouldn’t be recorded. (It appears that ‘grey nomads’ have had success with this “gone fishin'” approach)

#2 If others in the household are submitting a return, instruct them to leave you off it This may cause ructions within a family, but may be entirely appropriate in a shared house or flat. The wording of the Act leaves open whether the ABS may still have the power to prosecute the objector

#3 Get an envelope and a form, and send a blank form in This will very likely result in successive re-visits from the collector, followed by threatening letters from the ABS. But if enough people were to do it, the volume would be such that the ABS would not have enough resources to follow everyone up.

#4 Avoid being at home when the Collector calls This will require great persistence, because Collectors and their supervisors are paid to chase, chase, and chase again.

#5 Be absent or too busy Whenever the ABS’s contractor calls or arrives, some people make themselves absent or say that they’re too busy, and avoid appointments. (This requires great persistence, because collectors and their supervisors are paid to chase, chase, and chase again. Eventually they may run out of time, although they have the option to argue to the magistrate that your continual busyness constitutes refusal to answer)

#6 Ask lots of questions These may be about, for example, the process, the questions, the privacy protections, or the security of the data. This may be accompanied by saying or implying that you may be prepared to provide the data once you have satisfactory answers.

(Based on experience, the ABS is likely to reply slowly, and with pre-written, carefully-composed and vague text that does not answer your questions. It’s commonly necessary to ask the questions again, and address letters further up the organisation. It’s necessary to sustain your patience over many months until one side or the other gives up)

#7 Provide made-up answers to the particular questions that are of greatest concern to you This is not appropriate for people who do not like to be forced to lie in order to protect their privacy. Moreover, if the intention is to avoid prosecution, the lies need to be subtle enough that the ABS believes them, or considers them too difficult to prove to be lies. On the other hand, because ABS is handling 5-10 million forms, it may be impractical for them to check even for silly answers, let alone for plausible but incorrect answers.

#8 Refuse to provide answers to the particular questions that are of greatest concern to you It is likely that this will not be possible with the online form, so it would be necessary to demand a paper one. This approach appears less likely to lead to prosecution, and it seems likely that the magistrate would be both less likely to convict, and less likely to levy a significant fine.

#9 Refuse to fill in the form The ABS has the power to prosecute under Census and Statistics Act ss. 14-15, and to seek fines that the magistrate could choose to apply once, or for every day that the data is not provided. Some prosecutions do take place. In practice, only a very small proportion of the people who have failed to provide the data have ever been charged, and no report has been seen of any large fine being imposed.

#10 Fill in the form using a light blue pen A recent proposal is based on a statement on the 2011 census form that you must fill it in using “black or blue” pen.

Forms are then scanned in order to extract the data. The graphic arts industry uses a pen that writes in a form of very light blue that is not normally picked up by scanners, called ‘non-photo blue’ or ‘non-repro blue’ – RGB 164, 221, 237.

(There are practical limitations. A pen of that kind is needed, or a digital equivalent. The ABS’s scanners may be able to be set so as to cope with the colour. If only a few people use it, the ABS would detect it, and could manually capture the data from a modest number of forms. There’s an outside chance that ABS could attempt to convince a magistrate that use of a light blue pen was tantamount to a refusal to provide data. If many people use it, on the other hand, it could have an impact. Note, however, that ABS would be very likely to maintain secrecy about countermeasures used, and refuse to divulge information about how many people adopt the approach).

Will you be filling in the census next Tuesday night? Let us know in the comments.

More On Census 2016:


  • While there are privacy concerns, the personal details are no more than we had in the past – they were the details that the census collectors used to visit our homes and they were kept separate from the census information.
    Now with online submission it may not be as easy to keep them separate but at least the census people will make an effort. They need to do a good job of it to prevent the crooks linking them to prevent kidnapping the well off.

    • They’ll still be stored separately. Crooks would have to steal two separate databases to get your name-linked census form (and if Stilgherrian says their crypto is good enough, then I believe it’s good enough).

    • Thank you for correcting this.

      One of the biggest misconceptions perpetuated on this site (and others) is that this will be the first time that names and addresses have been collected. That’s been the case pretty much since censusing started.

      The only difference this time is the duration of retention of that data. Previously it was around a year or so while the necessary stats analyses were run (presumably so outliers or individual datapoints could be cross-referenced).

      The question that hasn’t been satisfactorily answered by ABS is why that duration needs to be longer for this census.

  • I work in the healthcare system and I know exactly how important it is that accurate and meaningful data is collected. So of course I’ll be completing the census and encouraging people to do so. If you are reading this article thinking that a decision not to fill the census out will only amount to a personal risk and cost (if caught) then you are living in denial of how important health services (we are all entitled to and pay for in our taxes) are decided upon in terms of resource allocation.

    • And it makes absolutely no difference if my name is recorded or not, only that the remainder of the information is correct.

    • I know exactly how important it is that accurate and meaningful data is collected.

      How does giving personal details affect healthcare system data in particular? Can you elaborate on this please? Surely a “yes I’ve needed healthcare in the past 12 months” is just as useful as “John Citizen required healthcare in the past 12 months”.

      • Absolutely agree with you collection of information for survey is simply that a collection of answers to the questions. Not a collection of names and detailed addresses AND questions answered. All those who gleefully hand over do you leave your front door open when you go to bed because the divine garden faeries will keep watch? Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

    • politicians will soon be able to access it. They may accidently pass on information about someone who was a victim to the perpetrator. This is a disaster.

    • Perhaps you should be criticising the ABS for collecting names then.

      I’ll be entering completely fake information.

    • If you seriously think they will use this to improve any services let alone health services, then there is no hope for the future .

    • This has nearly nothing to do with allocating services. That’s just their favourite plausable excuse most people will swallow in apathy. Because if it really were the reason, why would they risk widespread corruption of data that so many people online promise is going to occur, by removing privacy. It serves NO purpose towards the reasons they claim. Hospitals, etc. are a mere side issue for these contemptible control freaks. They not only know they’ll get a sea of rubbish surveys, but are replying on it. It means they can employ some more really useful (gag) public servants to fine people (thus reducing unemployment figures for the media to lap up), until they achieve what this was really about – to have nearly everyone identified, subdued, and even believing we have to pay the unjust fines – thus confirming we accept we’re owned, controlled and dependent on them.

      • Here is another thought about this census. What if the ABS already knew there would be a populace backlash. And used this nosey intrusive census to revenue raise and few dollars easy peasy when one knows how. The tresspass into ones privacy is step by step. If a person was to look through your lounge window not so bad then a few days later looked through your bedroom window then came back and looked through your bathroom window and took photos, are you okay with this? When was it not? Okay.

    • Sorry, typo – comment above should read: “They not only know they’ll get a sea of rubbish surveys, but are *relying* on it.”

    • accurate and meaningful information, yes, names and addresses, no. They have said that they are collecting statistics. Names are not a statistic unless the ABS or another government department is planning on bringing out a Baby Names book. I also object to info being kept for 4 years. Gives too much time for hackers to find a way in. No system is impregnable given enough time.

  • Here’s a better idea: Fill out your goddamn census so that the next five years’ worth of public policy isn’t made on the assumption that you don’t exist.

    • you are dreaming if they really use it like that. IT is nothing but an info grab. Like metra data

    • All public policy is made on the assumption the public doesn’t exist. The only thing more depressing than how idiotic is the notion that census data is needed to plan public services, is the number of people stupid enough to believe it.

      A short study of modern history will reveal that fascism has always been on the rise in times of economic calamity. That the government is creating fascist institutions NOW tells us that they know that economic calamity is just around the corner, and they hope to keep the resulting social unrest and violence to a minimum.

      That’s the sad part, for all of us.

    • As someone who works as a sex worker this will be the first time I’m being asked to provide my real name and job title on a form.
      I don’t think that is right or fair.
      MANY (almost all!) of my work friends are not putting accurate information on thier forms because some have partners that are unaware of thier job.

      Making it mandatory to provide your real name on the cencus forms will only ensure false information comes in large amounts. THAT is the reason it was never mandatory before. People are always more honest under the blanket of annonimity. Trust me as a hooker I know this better than most!

      As we are currently fighting for rights in the sex industry ( and already have the best models in the world for working as a sex worker in Australia) I feel it is important to not close off minority communities from contributing to a fair and comprehensive collection of information that could potentially hold benefits for them in the future.

      It is my accusation that public policy is ALREADY made with the ussumptions that we don’t exist and by not making this census annonomus it now has an excuse to continue to do so.

      • You should be more concerned for damage doing sex work has done to your souls. Not fighting to protect such an industry that should not exist in first place.

        • Not everyone is the same. I 100% agree in anonymity. People hate being judged, and its because of narrow minded responses such as this. And by narrow I mean ignorant of natural diversity.

        • Oh well , there we go – yet another one concerned about everyone elses soul. You are the one who should worry about the damage to your soul by your sanctimonious, self-satisfying smug comments.

  • I dont understand what the issue is for most people. Is it that so much information is in one place? Or the potential use of that information?

    I’m not sure most people understand how much information is already out there on each and every one of us, and how many databases share information now. Anything that might worry you on the census is already being collected somewhere.

    For perspective, I always remember Ray Martin doing a story on A Current Affair (so, late 80’s) that there were 220 Govt databases with info on each of us. That number wouldnt have dropped, and the sharing between them wouldnt have gotten less either. In this day and age, sharing and matching data is an industry, not a niche.

    If people are worried about the information being abused, again, thats already a risk. All we are protected by is the need to know policy and that the red tape of the public service protects against fishing trips.

    • Yeah, the issue is that it’s all in one place. If someone manages to break in to the ABS’s systems and get a hold of that data, that’s an awfully large amount of identity theft that can be done.

      • Thats already an issue though. If someone managed to break into the ATO’s systems they could get far more sensitive information than what the census asks, and the security level for both databases would be as significant as each other. They aint backing up to dropbox, put it that way 🙂

        Its not about ‘she’ll be right’, its that the concern is already there, and in bigger ways.

        As a disclaimer, I work in the ATO. A project I’m doing at the moment means I’m looking at a list of who we share data with (inbound and/or outbound) and just on the list in front of me I see around 300 databases. And its not even close to including all of them.

        All that information is on our datawarehouse, somewhere. And that sort of volume is going to include a hell of a big portion of what the census asks, in one way or another. People are concerned the census creates a problem, but the problem is already there, and has been for nearly 30 years.

        The harsh reality is that we now live in a world where data breaches are a common occurrence. People make careers out of trying to prevent that, but its going to happen anyway. Its just a matter of scale.

        • You really believe that the ATO has more of your personal details than the ABS? Exactly where does the ATO obtain information such as religion, sexual preference etc etc? There is so much more personal information collected on the Census form than is required when filling in your tax return.

          • Nice to know people want to continue discussions a month later…

            Did you read what I wrote? If you did, I dont think you understood what I said. Government departments share information. Sometimes automatically, sometimes by request. Thats how the system works, and thats the point. The information is already out there.

            Every time you fill out a form and put your name, address, phone number, email address, or any other identifier, you create a connectable bit of information, and can tie everything else in that form to whatever else you’ve filled out. People are paranoid about that being abused, but it can already be abused.

            It doesnt happen because there are protections in place to stop it. The most basic one is need to know. I have access to a hell of a lot of information, but if I dont have a valid reason to look at it, I risk my job, criminal charges, and jail time. Not preferable.

            I’ll ask you this. You really think the ATO doesnt have access to considerable personal information? What about Medicare, or Family Services? They all talk to each other, and the combination makes for a hell of a lot of personal information.

            People want to be paranoid. What I’m saying is the risk is already there.

      • Documents released under Freedom of Information laws in 2013 reveal the ABS was targeted by hackers trying to access market-sensitive information before its public release.NSW’s Privacy Commissioner has blown the whistle on a “range of risks’’ over radical plans to store Australians’ names and addresses in a government database after next week’s Census.

        “From a risk-management perspective, it’s hard not to be concerned about the proposed changes,’’ commissioner Elizabeth Coombs said yesterday.

        “There are a range of risks and it’s not just the risk of misuse. The Census is a valuable information and data source.’’

    • The other aspect is that up until the last census, they were just fine getting all the information they needed without attaching your name and location, but all of the sudden, they need it and now you have to provide it. I have not heard one logical explanation for why they have to now identify everyone other than, we think it will be good. Who decides what is necessary data and what is ‘nice to have’ but not really necessary? Who determines what’s in scope or what’s beyond the scope of what the census is for? When is too much data too much? And also, it’s the potential of abuse that worries me, google doesn’t have control of the ADF, google doesn’t control the state police force, google doesn’t get involved with immigration or healthcare or the ATO. So no, I don’t care if google know where I live and what my name is and that I like puppies. What are they going to do with that? Try and sell me shit? Influence my thinking? Good luck. I do care that the government knows that and that departments have the great potential to know things that are outside their operating realm. The health department doesn’t need to know how much I pay in taxes. The ATO doesn’t need to know what kind of birth control I’m on, etc. (yes extreme examples, to prove a point.) The government needs to know how many women of childbearing age live in what areas to ensure they can provide services. They need to know where people are buying new homes so they can improve roads, but they don’t need to know exactly what Joe Bloggs is doing and where.

      • I was referring to Govt databases, not Google, Facebook, etc. And what those Govt databases have (or have access to) would surprise you.

        People want to be outraged with this, I get it. I’m saying its already out there, and the only thing that stops people from getting most of that info now is the need to know principle. This is no different, that same need to know principle is what stops departments from abusing the data.

        If we get to the point where that need to know principle isnt enough, then we have a Govt thats created far bigger problems, and they would be collecting the information anyway.

      • couldnt agree with you more. i have previously filled out census forms diligently and accurately as i understand the need for vital information, but this time will not be providing personal details that bear no relevance to the statistical information required by government. they have been unable to give me any valid reason for the personal, non essential demands they are making on my privacy and if i cant fill out the form anonymously i will regretfully have no option other than see them in court should they try to enforce my total compliance

    • I dont understand what the issue is for most people. Is it that so much information is in one place? Or the potential use of that information?
      Whilst the government loves to bang on about how useful this information is for future planning,
      Governments in other countries have used this information for less than good purposes.

      For instance, I’ve seen quotes (havent researched myself) that said that the US used Census data to round up Japanese residentsa for internment during WWII.
      That may seem like a long-ago issue, but we’re talking about keeping this information indefinitely.
      The joke is that you may identify as Jedi, or Pastafarian today as a joke, but in 2056 when there’s some Jedi rebellion, and the government decide to arrest all Jedi’s it may not be so funny if you get detained for somehting you joked about in 2016

      • Good example. Makes my point that if the information is misused, then there are far bigger problems than the census data being used. WW2 was a strange time, where a LOT of civil liberties were… paused in the name of the war effort. But WW2 was the problem, not the centralised census data.

        If census data was used to do that, it was just a convenience thing. The information would have been somewhere anyway. Immigration for example, or Customs, would have searchable records of everyone that came into the country, and that information could be cross referenced with a number of other databases to find where you live.

        I’m saying the information that might be misused is already being stored somewhere, and if the conditions justify it, already able to be accessed.

        • So your suggestion is to allow the Govt departments gather duplicate information so they can validate their current information? Interesting, but as others have written, what happens when something that is currently legal become seen (or legislation passed intentionally, or unintentionally) to be suddenly illegal? Ok, then parliament passes a law under a terrorist guise and boom, suddenly people end up detained, killed, deported, etc all because they were honest.

          If they already have the data, then why do they need it again.

          Also the 4 year data retention is a croc, it is a 5 year cycle, they will not delete the personal data, after all how long does it take a govt department to do anything? Instead as a previous ABS employee put it, they will just overwrite the new census data on top of the old personal data, hence keeping up the guise that the data is not kept.

          People who have birth dates that can swap month and day like mm/dd/yyyy vs dd/mm/yyyy may be able to pervent some identity theft whilst still keeping the statistics of how old people are relatively close to accurate. I suppose William could be known as Bill, that way if the data did leak you would know also, maybe the ABS would not like to know that…. but there have been 14 security breaches on personal data held by the ABS since the Liberals first came to office, surely that is a concern to people who care about privacy and identity theft?

        • I am concerned that this gives all the data in one place and identified…so although the data may already be held and *could* be put together if someone wanted to, putting it all together in one place saves the corrupt official or data miner the trouble.

    • The issue is, that it’s none of their business who I have in my home, whose home I’m in, who my friends are, what I eat, watch, say, think!

      If they already have all this info (like proponents of the info-gathering nanny-state keep claiming) then what need is there to collect it again?

      The real reason is, it has no real reason – not yet – except to make us sheeple. i.e. One more step to rule us in our minds, make us think we serve them instead of them employed to serve us. One more step towards total control of every aspect of our lives. It has nothing to do with hospitals, etc. All you have to do for that info is look out the window at how full the car park is. Too simplistic? Ok – then don’t collect ANYONES name. This is their guarantee they’ll get false data. And it’s the reason they can’t be trusted. They don’t need it, yet they are going to fine us if we don’t give it – but it’s only for us and our services!? Some of you are living in DREAM LAND – WAKE UP!

      The government (rightly) teaches in schools that nazism was abc and xyz. Then it adopts the same practices the nazi party also claimed was for the good of the people. Yeah – it is for our good – until someone with more power than you decides differently. People that don’t see these things are uniformed, liars, or just plain fools.

  • Team don’t-worry-about-it-she’ll-be-right-mate are out in force.
    The other day I stumbled upon the medical records of 10,000 Australians that had been placed by some ‘researcher’ on a public Github page as data for some processing algorithm they were writing. Names, addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and so on. I was looking for something completely unrelated, but there it was. Perhaps @grunt’s or @bondle’s name was in it.
    There /is/ a privacy issue and we should all be appropriately wary of a government determined to kill our privacy by a thousand cuts. As someone who uses ABS data, they don’t need to identify us – particularly for government policy, which is executed at the macro level. That they say they intend on anonymising the data is just proof of that.
    The real issue here, though, is that people are concerned, and that the ABS has bungled the announcement and is unable to provide a believable reason why retained name-based identification is necessary, and now a lot of people are going to think of ways to refuse to participate. Even if you trust the government and every last one of its employees who have access to your data (I don’t), large organisations are being hacked on a daily basis and there is very little faith in that information being kept safe. This year’s data will have to be ‘adjusted’ to account for the resulting civil disobedience, reducing the quality of the statistics gleaned, not only for this census but also the previous and the next ones as ‘bumps’ in the data are smoothed after the fact (as in: data goes 5,5,6,6,7,0,7,8, you bump that zero to 7 because it looks like a fault in the data and whether it is or is not a fault is not known).
    All this so that the government can learn a lesson that they should already know: that privacy has become a mainstream issue and, perhaps more importantly, if you want to put our privacy in jeopardy you’d better be giving us something we want in return.

    • My favourite part was how that minister was going on about how the ABS is secure and has never had a data breach, uh, no duh! Last time you did this was 5 years ago. You didn’t have a whole country’s worth of data on your servers in the last census, what was someone supposed to do? break in to the warehouse where the forms were kept and steal tonnes of paper?

      • Ahh no, electronic censuses were used last time round. So not a whole countries worth. Secondly they breached some of their data but didn’t get any census data at all.
        But you know facts ruin a good story.

      • Wrong, the last time the ABS database was hacked was March 2016. Their data centre is actually operated by the weather bureau

  • I have a feeling John Doe will be a very popular name in Australia according to the 2016 census.

    • and I suppose Mohamed will drop slightly in popularity…? Not to mention the sex people relate to may suddenly just in numbers of “other”… keep data for a short period, not perpetually as that is just asking for trouble. Even multinationals have data retention policies for customer data where the data is destroyed after it is no longer required. So obviously the govt believes the data is perpetually required, this is an Orwellian bad dream.

    • Yes you’re right. I worked on the census in the 90’s when I was a student. I remember collecting a form from an elderly Jewish man who was very reluctant to provide information. He told me that the Nazis used Census data to find Jews. I thought at the time that this could never happen here in Australia, but now on reflection I’ve seen how my government has persecuted asylum seekers and I’m not so convinced that they would always act with probity and appropriateness. The book The Nazi Census elaborates on this topic, for those who are interested.

      Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

      • You know we are one of the few nations in the world that until know have conducted censuses with out names and addresses. The UK is one that records names. Even Israel records names on there census

    • Looks like someone else gets it after all.

      Pity half the country won’t refuse to fill out this arrogant invasion of privacy. It would clog the courts for so long they’d have to abandon it entirely. Can everyone say, “Baaa…!”

  • mattycoze it may suit you but if that’s the case the questions should be limited to what is really necessary not an info grab

    • Triane your spelling and grammar in all of your posts is atrocious. If you truly want to convince people you have something valid to say please attempt to come across as somewhat intelligent.

  • They will say that its all safe today. Then they will say its national security and hence need to access census data for the cops. Then it will be for Centrelink purposes they need to access it. Then the ATO. One by one they will go and like sheep ppl will just let the government do it.
    Remember these are the politicians who were running the juvenile detention centers and only acted after the public became aware of it.

  • If your ring once for a paper copy – not the time and date. IF they were too busy to get your details to send you a form – that’s fine. You have done your part.

  • It’d be interesting to see reporting on what kinds of out-of-the-box census responses the ABS receive, if such knowledge becomes public. For example, I wonder if some people might write out their census answers on a separate piece of paper and post that anonymously to the ABS, in an attempt to prevent any supposed identifiers on the paper forms and/or envelopes from being used to identify their responses. Who knows what other kinds of zany things might be done. In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of returned paper census forms get lost in the mail, Australia Post being the way it is these days. So any efforts in that regard might be for nothing in the end.

    • The first assertion is wrong.
      The Census is compulsory. Everyone in Australia on Census night must complete the Census. The information is collected under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905.
      What if I will be away from home on Census night?
      Everyone who is in Australia on Census night needs to participate in the Census, no matter where you are. Whether you are an international visitor, travelling to remote areas, simply travelling interstate or staying away from home due to a natural disaster or other reason, arrangements have been made for you to complete the Census.

  • The good news is, after everything iv heard about this census and everyones concerns, if your looking for work check out ‘contract collectors’, i have a feeling they will be in high demand soon 😛

  • Wouldn’t a reasonable option be to complete it but use the name “Name Withheld”. Then you’re not providing false or misleading information. It’s clear to any human that you’ve withheld your answer to that specific question.

    • Spot on. Provide the normal info; just don’t provide your name (as per previous Census).

      Do bear in mind that the ABS believe they have been collecting names and address joins since 2006. Apparently there was “community consultation in 2005, and has been transparently communicated through media releases, public submission papers, privacy impact assessments, published research, stakeholder consultation and the ABS website.”

      Sounds like a good interval to re-assess what they need this for. There’s statements justifying name collections like “ensuring that data is of high quality”.

      • Well, good on them. And it’s a good thing for us that they only keep it linked for 4 years, because now we are better informed, we can choose to take the risk and do something about it.

        I appreciate it that people are more accountable for their answers if they give their name, but I give them my word that my data is of high quality… and I’m afraid they’re just going to have to trust me on that.

        – Name Withheld.

  • I don’t claim it’s wrong (because I don’t know one way or the other) but #1 directly conflicts what the ABS website says. The ABS website says anyone in Australia has t ocomplete the form, no matter where they are.

    Can someone shed some more light on this?

    • They do. You have until September to complete. So if you were not at residence at the time you have to complete it later.

      • But suppose, just suppose, that the person who is house-sitting for you is resident at your house on census night and completes the form. You were out camping. Have you just fallen through the cracks? After all, the census report for your residence has already been filed.

          What if I will be away from home on Census night?
          Everyone who is in Australia on Census night needs to participate in the Census, no matter where you are. Whether you are an international visitor, travelling to remote areas, simply travelling interstate or staying away from home due to a natural disaster or other reason, arrangements have been made for you to complete the Census.

  • But if ”All that information is on our datawarehouse” then why would we need a census anyway?

  • My personal information is private. It is mine, therefore I own it. It is my property. Therefore, it is my decision – no one else’s, whether to disclose it to anyone. I could argue that I have not authorised the government to collect it or use it.

    What we do know is our government is in cahoots with the Americans who will have access to it under the 5 Eyes agreement, so it will be incredibly valuable to the spooks. I do not believe their feeble claims about how long they will keep it, and what they will use it for. We can be pretty sure they will use it for undisclosed purposes.

    Since when could we trust our government to respect its citizens?

    Another version of the argument is this ‘if I’ve got nothing to hide, then I’ve got everything to hide’.

    • My personal information is private. It is mine, therefore I own it. It is my property. Therefore, it is my decision – no one else’s, whether to disclose it to anyone. I could argue that I have not authorised the government to collect it or use it.
      Not sure if that’s sarcasm, but the ABS has a total right to your data by law, and has had from 1905 under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 – and not just in the Census, but also in their other surveys, such as the Household surveys, where they can, by law, compel you to document your income, expenses, general financial stuff, monthgly, for 8 months, by online or phone interview.

        • Section 51 (xi) of the Australian Constitution gives Parliament the right to make laws around the census and collection of statistics.

          The Census and Statistics Act 1905 (C’wealth) has several provisions around the forced collection of information. You’ll find relevant penalties under Section 14 and 15, as persuant to subsection 10(2,3,4) and 11(1,2)
          In short, you must provide responses, and you cannot provide false or misleading information, and you must provide it in a timely manner.
          The timely manner part also falls under Section 4k of the Crimes Act 1914 (C’wealth)

          Oh, and according to section 18, they can enter at all resonable times premises except your dwelling to supply or collect forms. So they could feasibly turn up to your work and enter the premises.

          I’m not sure what constitutional rights you feel are imfringed, especially given 51(xi).

  • The whole purpose is to link datasets between Government Agencies. Once they have your name and address and date of birth it’s possible to accurately link in your Healthcare information – what reportable diseases you have, any mental illness.

    Then Centrelink will want in, match their database with people who claim they don’t have a defacto, or people who reported they travelled to work.

    Then the Tax office will want in for their cut.

    It’s a central point of private information the government *WILL* be using to cross match.

    • When you go overseas, you fill out a passenger card and the ABS has access to those so yes, they can check that.

  • Yes, they will use the boarding cards from immigration to include you in the census.

  • It’s not like most of this information isn’t public already. People could go down to city hall and pull records for free on land ownership. That spam mail you get, mother know who you are and where you live.

    This is hardly a concern about privacy. All of this is basically public already. The government needs to update statistics so they know if the state is growing, shrinking, who lives at households, etc.

    You got a drivers license right? You got a passport.. They ALREADY have your info. They want to do a count.

    Don’t be paranoid for no reason. They don’t want to go GET you for your parking ticket from 8 years ago.

  • Or you could just be an adult and fill it in correctly. FYI you don’t need to provide your birthdate-the option is there to provide only your age.

    • How generous of them – to give the gullible few the illusion of having some privacy.

  • I am a 457 visitor here from America, I avoid letting the government know details like how much we all make and what our religious beliefs are. I don’t trust the American government and I don’t trust the Aussie one. So my info will be as bogus as possible.

  • You’re only half right, rickinoz. Yes, names and address have been collected before, but it’s always been OPTIONAL and only retained for 18 months (while the data is being processed). This time, it’s COMPULSORY and will be linked, plus kept for the four years (and some being retained for longer). Having been a user of census data, I’ve yet to hear a reasonable justification for this from the ABS. The equivalent of “trust us” doesn’t cut it. Happy to fill out the census, but my name, address (except postcode) and DOB will not be filled out correctly, if at all.

  • Did I see you mention the name Stilgherrian there? That is a blast from the past for me, where is he relevant to all of this bondles?

  • Paranoia is going to make this multimillion dollar effort a waste of time. Shame on you Lifehacker. Google already has more info on you than the government does. The only difference is that the gov needs to LEGALLY collect the data so that they can better allocate resources. Our communities will suffer due to the fear you are helping spread.

    • igod, just to be clear on the point about the ABS insisting on your NAME being included on the census – there is nothing LEGAL about that insistence. A person’s name is an identifier, not a statistic. The insistence of the ABS to supply your name is not authorised by the Census and Statistics Act 1905. The ABS has simply decided that they WANT it so that they can add it to their ‘Big Data’ – but more to the point, they are deliberately lying to us by saying that they are authorised to collect your name. They are not legally authorised to collect it, and certainly not to keep it for 18 months or more, as they have been doing for several censuses. The ABS has no power to prosecute anyone who doesn’t provide their name – though I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to.

    • Silly Boy .this is about providing Private Personal details .
      Census have never been about personal information .
      Invasion of privacy will lead .to give false information
      . multimillion dollar waste of time

    • Why assume everyone acts the same as you? Not everyone, or even as many as you would assume, toss their personal information around. Google does not have any of my information – no gmail, no google searches, no facebook, not even my IP address.
      Paranoia is exactly the thing needed when governments get seen doing this sort of crap to their citizens – before the next government does much worse.

  • I’ve always happily filled it out before, because I assumed that the names were only used to check your name off the roll as having completed it, and that they were then immediately destroyed. I had no idea they were keeping it for as long as 18 months and that they were data matching to other records. They’ve been quoted in the media as saying they want to access our Medicare and PBS records to data match – I’m sorry, but where the hell do they get off thinking they have the right to access our sensitive medical information without our consent??

    Notice they keep saying they aren’t giving our census data to other government departments, but ignore the question of whether the data is flowing in the opposite direction? How much data is flowing TO the ABS, rather than just AWAY from it?

  • 1) Despite what the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) claims, the census is not immediately compulsory – in fact, the word compulsory (or any synonym) doesn’t even appear in the Act. You are initially “requested” to complete it – you are not legally compelled to take any action at all – even upon receiving the printed census form by post – until such time as the ABS subsequently writes to you to remind you that you haven’t returned the form; it’s at that time that it becomes a legal requirement to complete and return the census within 14 days. You may be fined if you don’t comply at that point – but the ABS can choose not to write to those who haven’t returned their census forms, and if so, no fine can be levied. So if you are in any way hesitant about competing the census, don’t – wait and see if you are eventually “directed” to complete it; and if so – do so then.

    2) If you do not receive the census form by post, but instead just receive a letter containing a PIN to allow you to complete it online, this doesn’t oblige you to complete it online. Nor does it oblige you to spend four hours in a phone queue to request a printed census. Unless you really want to complete it online, you can throw away that letter. As stated above, if the ABS does not post you a census form, you can just wait until they do – which they may or may not do. If they do, and if it’s accompanied by a letter directing you to complete it within 14 days, then you must do so. The Act stipulates a penalty of one penalty point per day ($180 a day) if you do not comply with the direction after 14 days.

    3) If, as a protest, you are tempted to deliberately ‘pollute’ the census by providing false or misleading answers, you are committing an offence for which the Act stipulates a penalty of 10 penalty points ($1800) so you might wish to think twice before doing so.

    4) Despite what the ABS and the Australian Government Solicitor claim, you are not obliged to put your name on the census form – though if you wish to complete it online you may have no choice. The Act refers to “statistical information” – yet it fails to define what constitutes “statistical information”. But ask any statistician and they will assure you in no uncertain terms that your name is not a statistic! Specifically, the collection of your name is not authorised by the Act – the ABS has simply decided to collect it – but it has no power to prosecute anyone who doesn’t provide their name.

    If you wish to protest against the ABS and the Australian Government Solicitor deliberately attempting to mislead the public by claiming that they have the authority to collect names, I suggest that instead of your name, you write something like “Not required under the Census and Statistics Act 1905”.

    • Just found this at
      What do you make of this? I thought, unless I misunderstood your suggestion of what to put instead of the name on the form as stated in your last paragraph you said the name etc is not required under the Act of 1905, but here below it states otherwise. ???
      Are names and addresses compulsory in the Census?
      Names and addresses have been collected in every Census. Names and addresses are specified in the Census Regulations as Statistical Information, like all other Census topics. This requires the ABS to collect this information as part of the Census. The requirement for all topics, including names and address, on the Census forms to be filled completely and accurately is consistent with 105 years of Australian Census practice, the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and legal advice to the ABS from the Australian Government Solicitor. The only exception is religion, which the legislation specifies is optional.

  • Sounds like there are some government cronies on this site attempting to persuade people to willingly give up their right to privacy to the corrupt Australian political system and their agencies. It doesn’t matter if the information is already ‘out there’ somewhere on databases, the point is that there is a department of our government threatening fines and legal action against citizens that fail to comply with a demand for information of no statistical use. Hypothetical situation here for you: Let’s say due to the legal complications of Hilary Clinton dubious email leaks and all the people associated with holding her accountable keep turning up dead (Shaun Lucas, Seth Rich, John Jones QC) or for whatever various other reasons, that Trump wins the US election. Let’s say he declares war on a particular type of person, I don’t know…Muslims? Sure, why not? Not very likely, but ok. Then let’s say for the next 4 years he escalates the war to a point where allied countries are called in to the Middle East to help. Would these allies refuse and jeopardise a long standing alliance of trade and military benefits? So these allied countries somewhat grudgingly enter into a religious war with certain Middle East countries, but unfortunately there are citizens at home sympathetic to their friends and families being persecuted because of their religious beliefs in their country of origin, so they form large groups and start to protest and (of course) the protests get out of hand, so the government needs to isolate these ‘trouble makers’ and detain them to maintain ‘peace’ at home. I wonder where the easiest and most readily accessible compilation of personal data which includes names, addresses, age, and religious background could be found? The violent protests and civil unrest is urgent and was totally unforeseeable and you wouldn’t want the red tape of having to get several government departments to coordinate to gather information expeditiously now…
    What if, in the above hypothetical the Muslims win that scenario and they then have access to names and addresses of every resident that is an enemy of Islam?
    MY NAME IS NOT A STATISTIC, it is an identifier. If my name is Barry Wilson, you have a good idea about my origin and possible religious background even if I leave the rest of the form blank, just the same if my name is Muhammad Al Jaheera. ABS should be content with anonymous forms filled out correctly for accurate statistics, rather than a flimsy pretence for total breach of privacy. I will not be willingly storing the identifiable personal information of myself or my family on a single database that will be kept indefinitely. How long do wars go on for? All your details on a single database for longer than that….think about it.

    • My biggest concern is not the Government of today but those that will be in Government in the future.

      I seem to remember another group of people who were in Government once – “Keine Sorge, Es ist nur ein gelber Stern”
      Don’t worry – it’s just a yellow star

  • Nope – I haven’t filled out or been in a census since 1995.

    Here’s something they can register:
    Just try and get my $180 a day for your Quasi Tax scheme – you’ll be taking it from my cold dead fingers.
    Put THAT in your Census

  • Just called the 1300 214 531 (Census). Explained to the operator how I am uncomfortable filling out my personal details, name etc. on the Census form, and that I read about the interview with Western Australia Census director David Weymouth saying we won’t be fined for not giving our name. The operator put on me on hold a number of times while she went to check this (well that’s what she said anyways), the last time she came back she was reading me a statement taken from the ABS website how the names, addresses etc need to filled out correctly…I offered her to check out the website/article in question, she refused but said if I don’t fill out all the information I should keep the copy of that article (just in case). I wasn’t surprised she didn’t just say, yes it’s OK not to fill out the personal details, after all she works for the government, but still, I just wanted to know how she’ll react to that article with David Weynmouth.

  • I dont see why my name etc needs to be linked to it when my vote forms dont.

    Whats the reason for needing to know where i live and what my name is on the form ? Give me a good reason why it MUST be on the census but not on my voting forms hmmmmmmmm!!?!?!?!?

    I will be filling this form out with bullshit, they can fine me all they want i will declare bankrupcy im already poor anyway ffs what else can they take for a shitty census they dont need to do because they ALREADY HAVE ALL THIS INFO from all the data scrubbing they ALREADY DO FOR YEARS!!!

  • Iv been reading the act and it looks like (im no lawyer) that they can only store your information if you consent to them storing your information (as I red it) part 2, 8, a, b of the act cananyone clarify this?

  • Part 4 Section 14 number 3 of the act seems to say to me that they cant keep anything that identifies the person with the answers they provided so sending in a form with ur name on it and your answers would be a breach of the act…? Am I right?

  • So, do we have to or we don’t have provide our name on Census. I’m still so confused and scared I’ll be fined if I won’t. What legal right do I have if I don’t give them my name? Someone mentioned that even if people won’t fill out their name, because every form has a unique number, they, they government can cross reference it with the council records, or ATO or what ever other organisation, and they can simply fill out the name there themselves, and then they could still give you the fine for not filling it in properly. Help!!! PS: senator Nick Xenophon said on the radio this morning he is not putting his name down on the form, fair enough, he might have the $1,800 to pay the fine, but I don’t. 🙁

  • Anyone who doesn’t think that this is a problem needs to look at what happened in Holland in 1940.

    The Nazi party invaded Holland and had all records of Jewish people and where they lived, they were then subsequently killed or sent to concentration camps.

    Think it couldn’t happen? They probably thought that too.

  • What if I slept in my tent on census night, in a vacant lot. Do I still need to fill out the census?

  • Like your punctuation problem? Please use a comma when needed, as you come across as somewhat out of breath.

  • Remembering from last census when I was a collector, the unique census form number at the top of the form is recorded against your address in the collector’s records.
    And so withholding my address seems redundant, as the unique form number already identifies my address.
    If I’m serious about my address not being cross-matched to other govt databases, I’m thinking the form could be returned by mail, with the unique number cut out or obscured. I will however complete my suburb, to help with the original purpose of this census.

  • You wrote “the Government … has yet to provide an adequate reason as to why it’s collecting this data” and yet you cite the Act that requires them to do so (one of the oldest Australian Acts still in force)! That would be the Census and Statistics Act 1905 (and the more recent Census and Statistics Regulations 2015 which you don’t cite which imposes a legal obligation on how they are to do that). So the answer is “Because the ABS is legally required to do so.”
    And why is this a legal requirement (well may you ask – the writer did not for some reason)? Well the policy reasons for requiring a regular census (in the Hansard record of the debates that introduced this Act) get revisited every census. In the unlikely event that you missed them this time around, they are in this very article are that “the statistics generated from the Census could potentially shape future policies and funding from the Government”. So you can be an idiot and follow the advice in this article that claims questions aren’t answered that clearly are, or you can just do what the law requires of you (whether you are likely to be fined or not) so that, when (not if) you claim that your government is incompetent, you aren’t the reason why they are!

    • Or you can do what many in the past have – refuse to comply with laws that are just plain wrong.
      Unfortunately laws must be broken for society to advance.

  • So did anyone manage to avoid doing the census? I’ve had the guy twice to my place now asking if I’ve completed it… nicely so far, except he’s started coming in the evening around 7 or 8pm…

  • Here here.. So far Ive been working while the form was dropped off..I’m tempted to find that light blue pen to even use a red or pink one..or maybe I won’t even fill it in at all..I’m going to see how long it takes for them to go be up..9or I’ll leave in my families details in the firm and not mine..bc I do t want to share info.. Or maybe just post back the form..hoping it gets lost!! Aust post is good like that..
    Oh and here’s another thing someone told me to try..
    ..get the paper form and ..
    U write ‘I wish not to contract with ausmerica I do not consent this is my first and last warning’.

    Has anyone tried this?

  • Hi darted. I’m not denying that that’s what it says on the ABS website, “Names and addresses are specified in the Census Regulations as Statistical Information, like all other Census topics. This requires the ABS to collect this information as part of the Census” is actually there in black & white on their website. What I am pointing out is that DESPITE what they say there, it’s wrong, and isn’t legally enforceable. Call it a lie or a mistake or whatever you like, but this is why Sen. Nick Xenophon has stated publicly that he is prepared to go to court and make a test case out of it, if the ABS attempts to prosecute him for leaving those details off his census form.

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