Privacy, the census, and a new approach

XKCD privacy_opinionsPlease, let’s try to not equate the ABS’s technical problems with a moral high ground about privacy.

We all had a legitimate beef with the ABS about privacy and the way the census was being handled. Whether that beef was real or an issue with the way they were handling the ‘optics’ is open to debate – but there was a question there to be answered. But for pity’s sake don’t interpret their technical problems as giving you any moral high ground.

It has been sad to watch my social media feeds move from people with ethical issues with the ABS holding identifiable data, to the same people shouting ‘I told you so’ because of the technical issues bringing down the website. I’m not under-rating the embarrassment of the ABS in having technical issues in saying this, but their problems with server scaling do not reflect on the ethical and privacy issues. This same process played out in the USA when the servers couldn’t handle the Obamacare insurance changes – the technical problems were pounced upon as evidence that the underlying plan was bad.

There may well be ‘trust us’ issues arising from the DDoS attack: But they don’t reflect on the underlying issues. However, what is happening is that the technical issues are helping this whole thing get blown out of proportion.

Really you have to grasp that all this information is already horribly available. We live in a connected world and you’re kidding yourself if you think it’s possible to avoid that. If you’re worried about the information you’re providing to the ABS, why aren’t you terrified about what the ATO knows about you? Seriously what makes the ABS more vulnerable than the ATO – absolutely nothing.

We have to start to come to grips with the trade-off that is our current reality. Privacy does not mean what it once did. We simply cannot expect to keep basic details about ourselves entirely hidden.

If we want this cool, connected world we live in to work, we need to sacrifice some privacy to oil the wheels which keep it turning. That’s scary and I get that – but it is the reality we face. And, realistically, in the context of the census the government has access to all this information and more if they could be bothered joining the dots between the ATO, Qantas, Facebook, NAB, and Wooloworths – or whatever your personal choices may be.

Perhaps the answer lies in there. Maybe the census should not be about us providing new information to the government. Maybe the census should turn around and become the one day every four years that the government joins the dots between all the information it has access to and let’s us find out what they can already see. Reverse census.

Image: XKCD

One thought on “Privacy, the census, and a new approach

  • August 11, 2016 at 8:09 am

    Mane the reverse census could be used to mail in corrections/validate the linkages that they already have


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