Last December, the Australian Bureau of Statistics quietly announced a major change to the way the 2016 Census would be conducted – making it mandatory for people to include their name and address, along with highly sensitive personal information about their household income and habits. The ABS had plans to hold this data for at least four years, as well as cross-match Census records with that held in other government databases.
A number of people, myself included, raised red flags about this massive breach of privacy by government, along with warnings that the ABS would be assembling a honeypot of data that would be targeted by very well funded cyber criminals.
There’s big money in identity fraud, as well as very serious implications for anyone who’s identity has been compromised. Chris Pogue, a cyber security expert, very eloquently described the fall out when the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was hacked last year. (For those of you who don’t know the OPM, it’s the US agency that does background checks for security clearances.) We hear about major hacks on a daily basis. In this environment, for the ABS to maintain that it can keep every Australian citizen’s private data safe from hackers is nothing short of incredulous.
Fast forward to Census day, and one of the biggest debacles in Australian history. The fancy new online system was down for nearly two days. The ABS and government say it was a cyber attack from overseas – even though security experts have been unable to find any traces of a DDOS attack.
And now, two weeks later, the ABS says its collected about six million Census forms but is refusing to say how many Australians were able to successfully use the online Census collection website, which is reportedly still going up and down. And, to add insult to injury, the ABS is still threatening fines of $180 per day for failing to fill out the Census in spite of a fiasco of their own making.
The Census, which is supposed to be a poll of Australian households at a specific point in time, can no longer be relied upon for this type of statistical snapshot. Throw in an unstable website, which could very well have lost or corrupted data in mid-stream, along with public mistrust of how their information will be used, general frustration with trying to enter Census information multiple times, and you have a recipe for a corrupted dataset.
Over the years, I’ve used Census and other ABS datasets as inputs to informing my client’s major infrastructure investments. When it comes to using Census 2016 data to help my clients with multi-million dollar decisions, I’m staying far away.
You know #CensusFail has hit the mainstream when churches talk about it on their sign boards.
About the author: Shara Evans is internationally acknowledged as a cutting edge technology futurist, commentator, strategy advisor, keynote speaker and thought leader, as well as the Founder and CEO of Market Clarity.