Privacy Matters: A follow-up of the Census failure

Australia’s recent attempt of a national Census has evoked concerns regarding privacy and trust in both business and government. As previously discussed, controversy surfaced prior to the Census date due to changes in how long Census information was stored and used. Privacy advocates, such as the NSW Council for Civil Liberties President Stephen Banks stated, “We now have some politicians calling for discriminatory action against people of a particular faith… it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to think twice [about honestly conducting the Census]” (Burke 2016). A similar sentiment was concurred by Australian Privacy Foundation vice-chair David Vaile, “[The Census] has gone from a valuable anonymous snapshot to an identifiable longitudinal dossier on Australians, with technology now capable of cross-matching and analysing people’s private information” (Burke 2016).

These concerns were dismissed by Michael McCormack, Minister for Small Business and Census head, claiming that the census is “No worse than Facebook” in tracking and storing private data. This is a valid point, especially considering 71 Australia schools were recently involved in teen nude-sharing, whereby students were publicly posting and exchanging sexual images of their classmates over social media.

So amongst privacy and trust concerns, where does Australia exactly stand? According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, Australia is experiencing “unprecedented signals of uncertainty” (Riches 2015). The 2015 and 2016 results reveal that both the general and mass population of Australians show a general distrust for the government and businesses.


Edelman global trust

Mass and General Population of Australia distrust the government. (Edelman 2015)


From 2014 to 2015, Australia’s trust in their own government dropped from 56% to 49%, which following the 2014 election, 75% of people believed the government “fails to contribute to the greater good” (Edelman 2015). Meanwhile, trust in business likewise dropped from 59% to 48% (Edelman 2015). Despite this, Australians have showed a steady increase of trust and certainty in both social media and online search engines (Edelman 2015). Given the trends within these results,  Australians substantially trust their social media over the government.

As Karl Stefanovic once said to our former Prime Minister, “No one’s buying what you’re selling”.

In light of the Census failure, the federal government is undoubtedly in damage control, with PM Malcolm Turnbull blaming IBM for the site’s takedown. McCormack’s previous statements to trust in the government and the ‘impenetrable’ ABS have fallen on a relatively distrustful business. IBM, which has secured $2.4 billion in federal government contracts, was paid $9.6 million to host the census. However, it’s history with government departments hasn’t always been one of unrequited trust. IBM is currently foregoing a 3-year ban with the Queensland State Government following a commission of inquiry into the $1.25 billion payroll failure. This inquiry revealed that a number of IBM employees were conducting “unethical transgressions”. It’s almost humorous for Michael McCormack and the federal government to ask Australians to trust a business with the protection of their private data, when government departments themselves demonstrate a lack of trust.

If the Census failure has taught us anything, it’s that concerns regarding privacy, data storage and cyber-security are becoming a prominent issue in Australia during a period of distrust for both government and business. Whilst advocates and agencies may act to intervene in programs such as the Census in facilitating these concerns and informing the public, general distrust and uncertainty have caused Australians to question the status quo or at least remain mindful when it comes to media and privacy.


Burke, K 2016, ‘Census 2016: changes an “abuse” of public’s trust’, Daily Telegraph, July 23.

‘Edelman Trust Barometer 2015 Annual Global Study: Australia’, 2015, Edelman, Online Document, <;.

Foye, B 2016, ‘IBM breaks silence on Census fail’, CRN, August 12, <;.

Glance, D 2016, ‘As census failure blame points at IBM, why we shouldn’t be surprised by its failings’, The Conversation, August 17, <;.

Riches, T 2015, ‘Trust in Australia Declines as Broken Election Promises, Economic Challenges, and Rapid Innovation and Change within Business Drive Uncertainty’, Edelman, online document, <;.

Foye, B 2016, ‘IBM breaks silence on Census fail’, CRN, August 12, <;.

Glance, D 2016, ‘As census failure blame points at IBM, why we shouldn’t be surprised by its failings’, The Conversation, August 17, <;.


‘Trust Index: World’, 2015, Edelman, Online Document, <;.



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