ABS letter to the Australian Financial Review Editor "Who is misleading who over the census?" (published 28 June 2005)

In response to the letter by Ms Johnston of the Australian Privacy Foundation ("Who is misleading who over the census?", June 28), it is disappointing that the Privacy Foundation continues to misrepresent the Census Data Enhancement proposal.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has no plans to "create a continuously updated national population database". The proposed Statistical Longitudinal Census Dataset does not involve keeping name or address information (it will only contain unidentified Census records) and will not be updated between Censuses.

Other datasets will not be added to the Statistical Longitudinal Census Dataset or used to amend or update this dataset. Information will only be combined with selected data from the Statistical Longitudinal Census Dataset on a case by case basis for specific statistical studies. Some of these studies will involve use of address information during the Census processing period to bring the information together. However, the name and address information will not be available with the datasets created and will be destroyed together with the datasets after the studies have been completed.

The ABS has sought to address privacy concerns by providing a number of safeguards. Name and address information held by the ABS will continue to be destroyed at the end of Census processing, as has been the practice to date. ABS is obliged to comply with the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the Privacy Act 1988 and no identifiable information will be released outside of the ABS. The ABS has also commissioned an independent Privacy Impact Assessment.

The ABS has yet to make a decision on the Census Data Enhancement proposal and will weigh up the public benefits of the proposal, against privacy issues and risks.

I invite your readers to read the proposal and the Privacy Impact Assessment on the ABS web site <www.abs.gov.au> and judge for themselves.

Susan Linacre
Acting Australian Statistician