1406.0.55.003 - User Manual: Responsible Use of ABS CURFs, Sep 2009  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 22/02/2012  Reissue
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The ABS provides access to microdata collected through ABS surveys, censuses, administrative data and integrated data from a range of sources. Microdata is data in a unit record file that provides detailed information about people, households, or businesses. Microdata is used to support informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community. It is particularly useful for researchers and analysts who want to conduct sophisticated analysis of the data.

Microdata is used to undertake data manipulations requiring individual unit record data reflecting the diversity within a population. Some typical applications include production of papers, journal articles, books, PhD theses, microsimulation, modelling and conducting detailed analyses. Data contained in microdata products are also used for producing detailed tabulations in a disaggregated form. Published Research Using CURF Microdata provides many examples of what is possible.

Microdata products are released at the discretion of the Australian Statistician after an assessment process conducted by the ABS. The ABS has protections in place to ensure microdata is managed to maintain the confidentiality of individuals and businesses, as required under the Census and Statistics Act 1905. This is fundamental to the trust the Australian public has in the ABS, and that trust is in turn fundamental to the excellent quality of ABS information. Without that trust, survey respondents may be less forthcoming or truthful in answering our questionnaires. For more information, see 'Avoiding inadvertent disclosure' and 'Microdata' on our web page How the ABS keeps your information confidential.

In response to the legislative requirement for the Australian Statistician to release microdata ‘... in a manner that is not likely to enable the identification of a particular person or organisation to which it relates’, the ABS:

  • removes all directly identifying information such as names and addresses, etc.
  • ensures data items likely to identify respondents are released in broad categories only - for example, while a particular survey questionnaire may record the respondents' home or business address, microdata may be released in broader regions
  • checks for records with uncommon combinations of responses, and may alter them slightly to ensure individuals or organisations cannot be identified.

    In addition, we place restrictions on how you may use some types of microdata. These restrictions are set out in the Undertaking signed by each organisation's Responsible Officer. Each individual must agree to the ABS Terms and Conditions for accessing microdata when submitting an application.

    These restrictions, and your responsibilities toward them, are discussed in detail in this manual. Reading of this manual is a prerequisite for access to ABS microdata.

    Applying for microdata access
    To apply for access to ABS CURFs see How to apply for microdata. For information on the microdata products offered by the ABS, see the Microdata entry page. Each ABS microdata product has associated with it a technical manual or user guide which includes information on its content and data items. See the Available microdata page for a full list.

    If you are a member of an organisation, and you intend to access a microdata product in order to undertake analysis under your organisation, then you must apply for access as a member of your organisation. If you are supervising a research project and you will be examining unit record information from a microdata product, you are required to apply for and be approved to access the relevant microdata product. An individual who is not associated with an organisation can also apply for access to microdata. In practice nearly all microdata users are members of an organisation.

    The requirements of microdata access are shown in the Undertaking and this manual. Provision of microdata products to those not approved by ABS is a breach of the legal Undertaking signed by your organisation's Responsible Officer. Where such breaches have occurred, the ABS may apply any of a range of Penalties for breaching the Undertaking.

    Overseas clients applying for microdata
    The ABS will consider releasing microdata to overseas applicants on a case by case basis. Successful overseas applications will usually fulfil one of two criteria:
    1. They are affiliated with an Australian university or government department, or their country’s National Statistical Office (such as the US Census Bureau, Statistics New Zealand, Statistics Canada etc).
    2. The study is demonstrably of use to Australia. Some examples of work meeting this criteria might include: producing international comparisons in an area of topical interest; an overseas organisation undertaking policy relevant work on behalf of Australia; methodological work that leads to improved data collection practices and methods in Australia; and research likely to result in Australia reviewing policy.
    Release of microdata to any organisation, Australian or otherwise, is always at the discretion of the Australian Statistician. A list of National Statistical Offices can be accessed at www.census.gov/population/international/links/stat_int.html.