Code Red: How the Bureau of Statistics bungled the 2016 census by Peter Martin
Reading Cod Red in the Sydney Morning Herald, the real problem of the 2016 census is laid bare. Budget cuts and DDOS attacks are not the issue. If the ABS had not been greedy for too much information, or totalitarian with threats of fines, their servers could have coped on the night. In a single day the big achievers trashed the reputation of the ABS and the Census, and of IBM.
A former head of the ABS described the grab for names as the “without doubt, the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated by the ABS” — like an “Australia Card”.
Because of the invasive private information they demanded, some Senators (Greens and Xenophon) refused to comply. So the ABS threatened the public with $180 a day fines, and advertised that threat. They knew that they were asking too much, risking the good name of the ABS and of the census, and feared that citizens might object. That’s why they aggressively took the totalitarian route, threatening punishment to reduce conscientious objections. This combination created a recipe for millions of people to dutifully hit the site at the same time, crashing their servers. This is over-reach and incompetence, and on so many levels.
Forget all the fluff of cyber attacks parroted by the ABC . Those faults may be real as well, but the only number that matters is that the site was tested to manage 1 million submissions an hour – or 280 per second. All the officials admit that was the target, no one is contesting that, and for anyone who passed primary school maths, its obvious that was never going to be enough to meet the demand when 10 million households had been bullied into responding. This is the grand point of rank incompetence. It was all so predictable. Worse, now we have the cover up of the bleeding obvious.
The 2016 Census should be trashed completely.
Retaining “names and addresses” was unprecedentedly risky
Directed to actually conduct the census, and keen to extract some value from it, Kalisch [the ABS head] and his team revived an idea categorically ruled out by his predecessor. Pink had said no to retaining names.
“It wasn’t going to happen. I can tell you that,” Pink said this week.
“I always used to say to my people: you can’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and the golden egg is the census. In my view, you only need 20 per cent of Australians who are concerned about security and you put the census at risk.”
When given the option of having their names and forms retained and stored in the archives for release a century later instead of being destroyed after processing, 39 per cent of Australians had said no. The immediate use of their names might have alarmed them more.
Names had always been retained for a short time in order to eliminate duplicates and establish the relationship between household members, but destroyed after checks, usually well before 18 months.
The request for names and addresses was “the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated”:
“There are many administrative datasets that are likely to have considerable statistical value,” the report said. “In addition to the personal income tax data which has already been used in data integration projects, future data integration projects could include the use of welfare payments data, Centrelink unemployment benefits data, Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme data, Australian Immunisation Register, the electoral roll, and other nationally important datasets.”
The report envisioned no limit on what the ABS could link and charge for, so long as the names and addresses themselves were kept within the ABS.
One of Kalisch’s predecessors, Bill McLennan described what was planned as “without doubt, the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS”.
“I am appalled that the ABS can think it can use the threat of prosecution to make me provide data that allows the ABS to set up what is, in effect, a statistical Australian Card,” he wrote.
Peter Miller, the Sydney Morning Herald describes how the saga unfolded.
The billion dollar ABC was covering up for the ABS. Any friend of the nanny state is a friend in need…
The ABC would have helped the ABS if it had exposed the invasion of privacy for discussion earlier before Senators started the boycott. That’s what we pay the ABC a billion dollars a year for — to serve the people.
h/t to Dave B.