Over the past weeks social and mainstream media exploded with articles, news stories and comments about the 2016 Census. I myself was part of the effort to educate people about the changes to privacy that are being implemented for the first time with the data collected in this year’s Census.
The government made a decision late last year to retain names and addresses until the next Census so that they can match up your Census data with multiple administrative data sets for the purposes of research and surveillance. The census has moved from a snapshot of the nation on one night to an ongoing data linkage project connecting multiple databases (tax, Centrelink, Medicare, PBS, the Immunisation Register etc) providing on going access to data.
While efforts to set this in place have a long history in Australia (going back some 45 years), the final step was taken late last year without a single media story to inform the public that this significant change in privacy was being considered. As it happened, the ABS took only a month to consider these changes. To justify the decision, the ABS did focus group research to investigate the potential public response to the proposed changes and undertook an internal Privacy Impact Assessment. When the same changes were considered ten years ago, the Privacy Impact Assessment was independent of the ABS and recommended strongly against the de-anonymisation of the Census for privacy and security reasons.
The public at large did eventually become aware that the Census had undergone a significant change in purpose and privacy, sparking a boycott. Technical issues created extra hurdles for people who were trying to fill in their Census and this has been made worse by the ABS phone lines experiencing similar overloads and widespread confusion about what the type of form people received and when they have received it. Throughout this considerable confusion, frustration and angst experienced by the entire nation toward this year’s Census, the ABS has remained aloof and unhelpful, providing questionable explanations for the problems.
During this time I have read hundreds if not thousands of comments and questions on the #CensusFail hashtag. I was also asked by media to provide a breakdown of people’s intentions toward the Census however there were far too many responses at the time for me to get any clear idea of which actions were most favoured by respondents. At the time I was getting hundreds of comments and questions about the Census each day.
Given the interest in the responses to the 2016 Census, I thought it would be useful to everyone to turn this source of information into research results that can be used to counter the spiel put out by the ABS and further inform those both for and against the changes to the 2016 Census.
To this end I have designed a survey containing ten questions which I have put on Survey Monkey to save time and effort. The survey is anonymous (ie Survey Monkey is not tracking who is filling it out) and it asks no personal information. Most answers are Yes/No tick boxes and respondents can see all responses on completion of the survey. The open ended responses are not available via Survey Monkey as an instant response but I can report on these as the survey progresses.
The survey comprises ten questions and asks respondents if they have filled out the Census, if so did they fill in their real name, do it on paper/online, what issues they had filling it out, what experiences if any with Census collectors, if they were aware of the changes to privacy when they were originally announced and if they feel they have given informed consent for the uses to which 2016 Census data will be put.
I think this is important feedback for both the community and the government to have and I expect there will be many people interested in the results.
Please access the survey at this link and thank you for your participation. The results will be shared publicly as the survey progresses and used for further research and writing.