The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has taken to social media to reassure people they will not be fined if they complete the Census late because they’ve lost their log-in details.
The Census Australia Facebook page has been inundated with people who have not been able to get through to the helpline or by email to request the 12-digit log-in code needed to complete the Census online or to request a paper form, after losing their log-in details.
One worried person said: “I have emailed a few days ago and have the email support number and nothing else and have also turned my house upside down searching for the letter with login.”
Another said they had spent four days emailing and calling but had not received a response.
The anxiety of the Facebook posters was evident as the queries piled up online.
“I’ve been emailing and calling all week with no reply or answer. I have not received my letter and wish for someone to contact me ASAP” and another “Have sent two emails as I have moved and can’t access my old place hence no pin. Would really like to get an email back so I don’t get fined.”
One poster was more blunt: “Census Australia your online idea is not working it won’t let me log in it’s stuck on trying to get the page and left waiting on a blank page that won’t change. We should now fine you $ 180 per day until you fix the problem.”
Other people were determined not to complete the Census online and insisted on a paper form because they feared computer hackers would access their personal data.
“2 weeks Census, 2 bloody weeks no-one has been able to get through on ANY of the numbers on the initial letter with our code that was sent to request the paper form to be sent out.
“So much for requiring accurate information from us if you can’t answer the dam (sic) phones!
And no, I will not be using the online form, this year’s Census is riddled with enough privacy issues, let alone with the issue of online security!”
There were also some sad and sorry Census tales, including one woman having to blow dry her Census form after her dog urinated all over it and a man who claimed he had dropped his form down the toilet.
But the Bureau has remained steadfastly unruffled in the face of all the ‘a dog ate my homework’ excuses.
“You will not be fined for accurately completing and returning your census after census night,” many of its posts said.
“Don’t worry, there is plenty of time to complete the Census and you won’t be fined for being late. We would recommend calling back after August 10 to avoid long wait times. You could also submit a request via our online contact form.”
The online form is open until 24 September. The ABS said people would receive reminder letters and that Census field officers would visit households that hadn’t completed the Census to make sure everyone was counted.
This year’s Census – Australia’s 17th national headcount – has been mired in controversy after the ABS announced that it would keep data for up to four years and potentially cross-match it with other data sets, instead of destroying after processing, as has happened previously,
Some have taken umbrage with the fact that data linkages keys will be kept indefinitely, which could mean some information, e.g. such as birthplace or religion, could be auto-filled when completing the next survey or used to link Census data to medical, criminal and administrative records.
However, ABS Census chief Duncan Young has insisted that linkage keys are not released to a third party, that researchers would not see the keys and that the Bureau would be in charge of the linking.
Young has maintained that linkage keys, the ability to use linkage keys to link data sets and the data sets themselves are three, mutually exclusive steps and that no one person can access more than one of these steps.
The federal Minister responsible for the Census, Michael McCormack has also waded in – after earlier criticisms from the Opposition accusing him of going AWOL – and tried to soothe the public backlash against the survey.
“I think we’re making far too much of this, names and addresses and privacy breaches,” McCormack said.
“Anybody with a supermarket loyalty card, anybody who does tap-and-go, anybody who buys things online, they provide more information indeed probably to what is available to ABS staff.”
But organisations such as the Australian Privacy Foundation have not been mollified by his response and privacy concerns have also led to a handful of senators, led by Nick Xenophon, refusing to put their names on Census forms and risking a fine of up to $180 per day.
Census Australia’s Facebook page justified the Bureau’s requirement for people to add their names saying it resulted in better data quality and helped households record the relevant information for each person.
“Having names on the form also helps the ABS to identify if any people were missed during the Census, or accidently counted twice,” said the online response.
“It can also assist in improving the quality of data we produce on families, especially where complex relationships, like blended families, exist. International studies have demonstrated that an anonymous Census results in poor quality data.”
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