Privacy and the 2016 census

What benefits can we expect by retaining names and addresses in the 2016 Census?

In December 2015, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that they would retain names and addresses collected in the upcoming 2016 Census of Population and Housing, in order to "enable a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia." By retaining these personal details, the ABS can link Census data to other Government data collections, such as education and health. In response, privacy advocates have called for an end to this practice.

Feeling uneasy or worried at the prospect of anyone collecting personal, identifiable data is a natural reaction. There are valid concerns that, with indefinite data retention, current laws and regulations could be changed in the future and allow these data to be put to unforeseen uses. And it doesn't help ease our collective anxiety when the ABS admits they've previously retained names for data linkage purposes, but that now they're being more transparent about these practices.

One easy way out is to avoid providing your name, but that's not a real solution to the problem. As we've previously stated, "a strong case must be made for the social and economic benefits of information use." If we accept that there is inherent value in the data linkage opportunities that the ABS is pursuing, then we should collectively search for ways to ensure that the data are stored, protected, and managed appropriately, rather than recoiling from the notion of collecting these data in the first place.