• Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

What happens if you don’t complete the census


Aug 9, 2021

Census night is this Tuesday, but officials from the Australian Bureau of Statistics are bracing for multiple debilitating cyber attacks.

Every five years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has every household fill out a census form on the same night to get a picture of the nation as a whole.

The information is used to shape the country’s health, education, transport and infrastructure needs.

This time around, it’s expected that 75 per cent of households will complete their forms online, to adhere to coronavirus guidelines, with half the country in lockdown during census night.

And the government is preparing for the worst – so much so that they’ve hired “friendly hackers” to test out the website’s vulnerabilities.

It comes as the last census in 2016 was labelled a “cluster bomb of disaster” following the website crashing after only two million Australians had managed to complete their online forms.

It was later revealed that the census website had been targeted in four cyber attacks, prompting the ABS to “close down the system” as a precaution.

That was the first time they attempted forms to be submitted online. Tuesday night will be the second.

Will the census website be destroyed by hackers like last time?

Census spokesman and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar told The Herald Sun that taxpayer money was being forked out to pay ethical hackers “to see if they could find vulnerabilities in the system”.

Friendly hackers find vulnerabilities in companies’ cyber networks, and report them to the companies rather than exploit them themselves.

Mr Sukkar admitted that hackers have already been trying to attack the integrity of the census website.

“We’ve seen evidence of them trying to find vulnerabilities in the system,” he said.

“We know the usual range of state and non-state actors have an interest in disrupting what is a really important data collection exercise.”

In a statement to news.com.au, an ABS spokesman said the government engaged in “assurance activities” such as “ethical hacking”.

The spokesman added that the ABS “doesn’t comment on the details of cyber security hackers”.

Is my data safe?

Hackers may have attacked the website in the previous census, but they didn’t get hold of any data.

The ABS says the information you give is not shared with any other government departments or agencies such as the police, Australian Taxation Office or Centrelink.

It is legally bound to protect the privacy of everyone and will not release information in a way that will identify any individual or household.

Information is usually released by area.

Census staff can face penalties of up to $26,400 or imprisonment for up to two years, or both, if confidentiality is broken.

After 18 months the ABS will destroy names and after 36 months they destroy addresses.

However, they won’t do this if you opt in for your information to be stored in the National Archives of Australia, where it will be held for 99 years and then released publicly in a kind of time capsule.

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