The 2016 Australian Census: privacy matters and privacy matters.

Leading up to Tuesday, August 9, the 2016 Australian Census has experienced a flurry of controversy regarding privacy concerns and the question regarding religion.

SA senator Nick Xenophon, leader of the Nick Xenophon Team political party and major player in the recent election voiced concerns regarding the changes to private information, whereby the Australian Bureau of Statistics extended the period of maintaining Australian names and addresses from 18 months to four years. These concerns were likewise founded by The Australian Privacy Foundation, which urged the ABS to stop using Australian names and locations for data analysis, claiming, “We’ve now since found out they’re not being deleted at all, they’re being stored and made into unique identifiers” (Longbottom 2016).

Even former head of the ABS, Bill McLennan spoke of this year’s census as a severe breach of Australian’s privacy, labelling the changes as “the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated” by the ABS (3AW 2016).

These claims have been refuted by Michael McCormack, Minister for Small Business and responsible for the Census. McCormack questioned those projecting privacy concerns, claiming that such individuals are willing to allow social media organisations such as Facebook and Twitter to track and record their private data, followed by claiming, “The ABS has never had a privacy breach, security breach on an ABS census, never” (Doran 2016).

Well, until last night. As most Australians are led to believe, the ABS was subject to a four separate ‘denial of service’ (DoS) attacks, resulting in the forced shutdown of the ABS site at 7:30pm. Early this morning McCormack reassured that the DoS attacks weren’t in fact an “attack” or “hack” but rather an “attempt to frustrate” the nation-wide survey. And it surely did “frustrate”.

There is, however, some skepticism whether the attacks actually occurred. Despite claims that the ABS site was ready to handle the mass amount of Australians accessing the online survey, RMIT internet security expert, Mark Gregory, questioned whether the attacks actually occurred, or if it was a result of too many Australians attempting to access the site for the survey.

This is a considerable argument, as this year was the first year the census was to be completed online nation-wide, and as such the ABS site could have simply been overwhelmed by the amount of Australians accessing it at once. This is supported by information provided by the Digital Attack Map, a live data visualisation of DoS attacks worldwide showed no record of data intrusion at the time.

In light of the entire issue regarding privacy concerns and the failing of the ABS site to combat the supposed DoS attacks, I was surprised to find that the Census did not include a question regarding sexuality or for same-sex couples. Considering the census is a key tool for data collection to shape policy making within both the public and private sector, it utterly failed to represent people of the LGBTIQ+ community, whilst also assuming that children have both a mother and father, and subsequently not a child of same-sex parents.

Such exclusivity is clearly a proponent of the current Liberal Party status quo, highlighted by their stance on gay marriage – a key issue of the recent election. Furthermore, it is interesting that the minister heading the Census, Michael McCormack, has been a vocal opponent of marriage equality. Furthermore, as former editor of the Daily Advertiser, McCormack wrote an editorial in May 1993 claiming homosexuals were “responsible for the greatest medical dilemma known to man – AIDS” (Glover 2010).


Doran, M 2016, ‘Census 2016: Nick Xenophon to withhold name over privacy concerns’, ABC News Online, 8 August, <;.

Longbottom, J 2016, ‘Census 2016: Privacy advocates say people’s names should not be retained’, ABC News Online, 22 July, <;.

Glover, B 2010, ‘Homophobic slurs haunt McCormack’, Daily Advertiser, 12 August, <;.

3AW 2010, ‘Former ABS boss Bill McLennan has serious privacy concerns about Census’, August 9, <;.


One thought on “The 2016 Australian Census: privacy matters and privacy matters.

  1. Pingback: Privacy Matters: A follow-up of the Census failure | Valid Issues No Tissues

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s