ABS tells Australian government there will be no Census data breaches in future

Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack told reporters on Wednesday that the ABS has assured the government of its ongoing security around the Census data it collects.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Despite being hit with at least 14 data breaches in recent years, Australian Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack has said he is assured of the security steps for Census data that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has put in place.

"Whilst there has been breaches ... there's never been a breach of the actual Census data," McCormack told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

"Never been a breach, the ABS assures us that this won't happen into the future with this Census, and governments of all persuasion take that information and assurances on board.

"The ABS has never had a privacy breach with Census data showing, and they have assured me as the minister responsible, they've assured the government, that they have every protocol in place, every process in place to ensure that there isn't a breach this time."

McCormack deflected questioning on whether Australia should have mandatory data breach notification laws, which has been promised and left unlegislated by both recent Labor and Coalition governments, to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Earlier in the day, the ABS sought to calm fears over the upcoming Census amid concerns about the move to take the Census online.

Australia's top statistician insisted that the nation is ready for an online Census, while rejecting privacy concerns, telling reporters in Canberra on Wednesday that concerns by privacy advocates have become a "regular feature" at every Census.

David Kalisch said 35 percent of households completed the Census online in 2011, and research suggested two-thirds would this time.

Fronting reporters hours earlier, Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison said 100,000 people had already filled in the Census online, and backed the approach taken by the ABS and its contractor IBM.

"In particular on the issue of privacy, the ABS on the Census has an -- I'm advised -- unblemished record on this issue, working with the same contractors that they were working with at this Census," Morrison said.

"The major change at this Census is to seek to significantly increase the compliance with the Census through online. Now that is going to save the cost of running that Census around AU$100 million -- so this is a worthwhile way to upgrade the way the Census is conducted."

However, as pointed out by journalist Asher Wolf on Twitter, at least one member of IBM's security team believes the Census data will be compromised, and asked the government what it would do to prevent it in a series of now-deleted tweets.

In response, McCormack said the IBM employee was a "very junior" member of Big Blue, and that the ABS had addressed those concerns.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also attempted to hose down privacy concerns earlier in the day.

"The Australian Bureau of Statistics in undertaking the Census always protects people's privacy and the security of their personal details is absolute," Turnbull said. "That is protected by law and by practice, so that is a given."

Yesterday, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Opposition Leader for Tasmania and Shadow Assistant Minister for Ageing Senator Helen Polley told ZDNet that the ABS should not collect names, and instead Australians should be given an identity number as a method for addressing community unease.

"I don't understand the necessity of having to complete the Census with your name," Polley told reporters on Tuesday. "People have a right to be concerned; there is no reason why you should have to give your full name.

"You should be able to be identified with a number."

With AAP

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