1406.0.55.003 - Responsible Use of ABS Microdata, User Guide  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 01/07/2016 Released Today  
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INTRODUCTION

The responsibilities and restrictions for the use of ABS microdata are discussed in detail in this guide and in the ABS microdata undertakings. It is important that you read this guide to ensure you are using microdata appropriately.

About microdata
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 Microdata provides many examples of what is possible.

Microdata is 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 are unlikely to identify respondents by the application of a number of different confidentialisation methods
  • 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, and for some modes of access, in an individual undertaking which is signed by the microdata user. Each individual must agree to the conditions of accessing and using ABS microdata when submitting an application.

Types of microdata
There are three types of microdata:
  • Basic CURFs are the least detailed Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF) type. Users can access basic CURFs in their own environment. Individual data items in basic CURFs are likely to be at broader levels of their classification than in an expanded CURF.
  • Expanded CURFs are accessible in the secure Remote Access Data Laboratory (RADL) and DataLab environments. They contain finer levels of detail than basic CURFs. For example, where a basic CURF might report an age classification in five-yearly increments, an expanded file may include data against each year.
  • Detailed microdata is available in the secure DataLab environment. Files released through the DataLab are de-identified and confidentialised appropriately within the context of the other security features of the DataLab. This means that the data is more detailed and requires less confidentialisation than a CURF.

See Access Modes and Levels of Detail for more information about types microdata and other modes of access.

Applying for microdata access
To apply for access to microdata, see the Microdata entry page. See the Available microdata page for a full list of microdata, including which microdata are available in each format, and a link to associated product information and data item lists.

If you are a member of an organisation, and you intend to access microdata 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 microdata , 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 ABS will consider all microdata access applications, including international applications.

Privacy
The ABS privacy policy outlines how the ABS handles any personal information that you provide to us.