06 April 2016
by Eva Cripps
No Census anonymity? It is time to be afraid
There has never been a more terrifying time to be an Australian. Sure, there have been darker days, and longer nights, but nothing compares to the insidious and downright sinister moves of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to retain all the personal identifying information of every person resident in Australia from the 2016 Census.
The Government rotates between favoured bogey men. This has played out in many ways throughout history; there was the White Australia policy, the Yellow Peril, and Reds under the Bed.
Unsurprisingly, the latest iteration follows a predictable propaganda trail, with declarations of war against terrorists, war on bikies, and a crackdown on pregnant asylum seekers and their babies trying to blackmail Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
But through it all, while the mainstream media shrieks and sensationalises and propagates mere nothings, while facts and evidence and reality is ignored, while more and more freedom-encroaching laws are enacted, harsher penalties are introduced and more powers are given to enforcement agencies, Australians have slept sound in the knowledge that their personal privacy, the daily workings of their lives, is, for the most part, protected.
As of the date of the 2016 census, this will no longer be the case.
For the first time ever, the ABS will retain the names and addresses in the Census of Population and Housing; all of which will remain linked to deeply personal and comprehensive responses, to ‘provide a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia through the combination of Census data with other survey and administrative data.’
What does this mean?
The answer is extremely obvious. The Government, through its various agencies, is building a comprehensive and detailed profile of every single person in Australia.
While the ABS claims to have processes and policies in place to prevent the release of such personal information, the naivety and sheer incredulities of such a claim is astonishing.
Since 2002, there has been at least 51 additional national security laws introduced or proposed, including new crimes, increased and expanded legal, police and intelligence powers, and greater government oversight; including the mandatory two year retention of metadata.
Since 2007, state and federal governments have ramped up the attack on so-called bikies, and introduced a range of extraordinary, far reaching, draconian laws, the vast majority of which don’t apply just to those committing serious organised crime offences, but impinge seriously on the basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of ordinary, law abiding Australians.
Laws have been passed by state governments to ban protesting, with ludicrous new penalties for people defending their rights and freedoms, and standing up to businesses or government ideology. Penalties are harsher for ordinary Australians standing up for their beliefs, than for a company director prosecuted over a workplace death.
The innocent majority are punished for the sins of the few, with lock out laws introduced, and completely disproportionate penalties for what are largely regulatory offences.
Doctors and other professionals have been threatened with two years jail for exposing and revealing child abuse and torture in Government sanctioned concentration camps. The right to silence, a fundamental protection for the innocent, has been seriously eroded, if not abrogated in part, with legislation across jurisdictions giving greater powers to alleged crime fighting commissions, and New South Wales attempting to abolish the right altogether.
All of these laws, in some way, violate the basic principles of Australia’s legal system. They threaten the basis of democracy.
But what have these legislative developments, as repulsive as they are, got to do with the ABS’s intention to retain the personal identifying information of Australians?
The national trend of tighter secrecy, greater control and abrogation of civil liberties has been fungating in recent years.
Detection, investigation, prosecution and government vilification depend entirely on agencies having access to personal information.
And now the ABS, with a stroke of a pen, has given the government the final piece of the puzzle. The ABS, collectors and harbourers of all things ‘data’, are connecting the dots to create the intricate map the Government so craves.
The ABS said itself in its media release: The Census information will be combined with ‘other survey and administrative data.’
The gross encroachment of rights and freedoms has nothing to do with keeping people ‘safe’ or ‘building a dynamic statistical picture’ of the population.
The Census information will be used for ideological warfare. Maybe not this year. Maybe not in the next. But it will be, because the tools will be there to allow it.
The ABS asserts for now, the personal information of Australians is safe. No doubt in much the same way the Immigration Department assured 10,000 asylum seekers their information was safe before inadvertently publishing it all online, exposing them to immense danger if returned to the countries they fled.
It is no surprise that the ABS, given the grave concerns about data protection and security, is jumping to assure people that the information will not be misused.
But the past is a great predictor of the future. And it’s about time that history was noted.
There was a time that people who obtained citizenship believed they, and their children, could finally call Australia home. There was a time when people could seek asylum on Australia’s shores by boat and not be detained in an island prison camp for years. There was a time when a doctor or teacher was obliged to report child sexual abuse, not be threatened with jail for doing so.
The time now, is a time for fear. With a Government already intent on targeting minorities, vilifying people because of their associations, and legislatively suffocating those who stand up for their beliefs, it is completely realistic that at some point, not too far away, the ABS data will be used for an entirely different purpose than the original intent.
Anyone who believes that the Census data, from 2016 and the years to come, won’t be used for sinister purposes is naïve and quite simply deluded.
‘If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide’ is little consolation when you have no way to hide even if you are innocent.