1. Broad description
This is delegated legislation (referred to as a 'Ministerial Determination', but in effect a regulation) that enables the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to release microdata to approved users for statistical purposes. It also outlines the conditions of release and the penalties for any breach of those conditions.
2. Why is it good practice?
It provides a degree of certainty to both the ABS and the potential users of microdata about the arrangements for release. The legislation also outlines the arrangements that the Parliament is happy with. As they are enshrined in delegation legislation, they are in the public domain.
3. Target audience
Primarily the research community who are the main users of microdata.
4. Detailed description
The specific legislation is outlined in Part 5. There is also a supporting statement providing policy, rules and guidelines to assist ABS staff involved in the release of microdata.
Each new release of microdata requires the approval of the Australian Statistician in view of the potential sensitivity of releases. Each release to individual clients requires the approval of a senior manager, employing the delegated authority of the Australian Statistician.
A Microdata Review Panel has been established to provide advice to the Australian Statistician on microdata releases, particularly the steps that need to be taken to ensure the release complies with the confidentiality test imposed by the legislation.
5. Supporting legislation
Disclosure of unidentified information:
1. Information in the form of individual statistical records may, with the approval in writing of the Statistician, be disclosed if:
(a) all identifying information such as name and address has been removed;
(b) the information is disclosed in a manner that is not likely to enable the identification of the particular person or organization to which it relates; and
(c) the Statistician has been given a relevant undertaking by each person required by sub-clause (2) to give a relevant undertaking in relation to the information.
2. The persons required to give a relevant undertaking are:
(a) for information to be disclosed to an individual, the same individual; and
(b) for information to be disclosed to an official body:
(i) the responsible Minister in relation to, or a responsible officer of, the official body; and
(ii) if the Statistician considers it necessary in a particular case, each individual in the official body who will have access to the information.
(c) for information to be disclosed to an organization other than an official body:
(i) a responsible officer of the organization; and
(ii) if the Statistician considers it necessary in a particular case, each individual in the organization who will have access to the information.
3. In this clause: 'relevant undertaking' means an undertaking in writing that use of the information in relation to which the undertaking is given is subject to the following conditions:
(a) no attempt will be made to identify particular persons or organizations to which the information relates;
(b) the information will be used only for statistical purposes;
(c) for information to be disclosed to an individual, the information will not be disclosed to anyone without the approval in writing of the Statistician;
(d) for information to be disclosed to an official body or other organization:
(i) the information will not be disclosed to anyone outside the body or organization without the approval in writing of the Statistician; and
(ii) if the Statistician considers it necessary in a particular case, the information will not be disclosed to an individual in the body or organization who has not given a relevant undertaking;
(e) if the Statistician considers it necessary in a particular case, either or both of the following:
(i) the information, and all copies (if any) of the information, will be returned to the Statistician as soon as the statistical purposes for which it was disclosed have been achieved;
(ii) access by officers to information, documents or premises will be given as may be necessary for the purpose of conducting a compliance audit concerning observance of the conditions under which the information is disclosed;
(f) any other condition that, in the opinion of the Statistician, is reasonably necessary in a particular case.
In a different part of statistics legislation, it is made clear that a person who fails to comply with an undertaking, as prescribed in (2) above, is guilty of an indictable offence punishable on conviction by a fine not exceeding $5000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 2 years, or both.
(i) Provides a basis for arrangements that are understandable by both the NSO and researchers.
(ii) Provides for significant penalties for legal breaches; this may be a reason why no known breaches have occurred.
(iii) Microdata protection is partly provided by a legally enforceable undertaking. This means that some protection (e.g. prevention of matching) can be provided through the undertaking.
(iv) Provides wider access to the data than would otherwise be the case, thereby achieving a greater return on the high investment in data collection and respondent burden.
(v) Provides statutory authority and transparency for release practices and a basis for the public defence of those practices.
(i) Researchers still believe the conditions of release are too limiting i.e. the steps taken to make the data confidential result in too much of the detail not being released.
(ii) Disclosure of microdata, even under circumstances demanding strict confidentiality, can alarm the privacy constituency and in the worst case, have the potential to impact on response rates.
(iii) Compliance with the limitations and conditions imposed by legislation can impose an administrative burden on both the NSO and the researchers, delay the release of information, restrict the range of researchers who can have access to the information, restrict the uses to which the information can be put and limit the nature of the information which can be released.
The supporting statement referred to in Part 4 is available on request from firstname.lastname@example.org