Why census privacy matters

For its 2016 census, the country’s national statistical agency announced changes that would impact citizens’ privacy. For the first time ever, census respondents’ personal information would be retained and linked with other administrative and survey data the agency has access to.

The national media quickly jumped on the story. The country’s public broadcaster wrote “If you’re worried about privacy, you should worry about the 2016 census”. The country’s premiere technology publication wrote “Lost our Census: Why the biggest hit to privacy this year is all about you”.

Once aware of the changes, the public was outraged. Calls for a nationwide census boycott erupted. Academics and former top bureaucrats – including a former federal privacy commissioner and a former chief statistician – publicly voiced their concerns.

No, this isn’t a Bizarro universe scenario of what didn’t happen in Canada following the referenced changes to the 2016 census implemented by Statistics Canada. This is what’s actually happening in Australia, where the Australian Bureau of Statistics has implemented similar changes for its upcoming 2016 census, set to take place next month.

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