1. Broad description
Special governance arrangements have been put in place to ensure the Australian Statistician has sound advice before making decisions on whether to release anonymised microdata files.
The recommendation comes from the statistical area responsible for the statistical collection on which the microdata are based. They make judgements based on the demands from users of the information. It must be accompanied by:
(a) a positive recommendation from a Microdata Review Panel (chaired by a senior methodologist) that the microdata are not identifiable; and
(b) a positive recommendation from the Policy Secretariat area that the proposal conforms with policy and legislation requirements.
2. Why is it good practice?
It provides the necessary assurances to the Australian Statistician before he makes decisions on release of microdata. In practice, he approves in principle the release of microdata from a particular collection (e.g. a Household Expenditure Survey). Australian legislation requires each release to an individual researcher to be approved. This responsibility has been delegated but only to senior executives.
3. Target audience
Microdata releases are targeted to the research community, particularly those located in government agencies, universities and other research institutes.
4. Detailed description
To assist uniformity in the process, standard templates have been developed for documentation.
The relevant statistical area will take the initiative in developing a proposal. For many surveys it will be a standard output, although there may still be consultation on the exact nature of the microdata release. In other cases, the decision to provide a microdata release could depend on representations from users and subsequent discussions with them.
The statistical area will then develop a proposal for a microdata release. It must first be cleared with a Microdata Review Panel. This is chaired by senior methodologists and they have developed criteria to assist them with their assessment. They will also do empirical analysis to help determine identifiability. If the result is unacceptable, they will make recommendations on how to reduce identifiability (e.g. by combining classifications). This will be done in collaboration with statistical areas.
Wherever possible consistent classifications on identifying variables such as age and occupation are used across different microdata releases. This simplifies the assessment task but is also of benefit to researchers working with several microdata sets.
The Microdata Review Panel is chaired by a senior methodologist. Its membership includes confidentiality experts and representatives from statistical areas.
One important component of the submission is the conditions that must be included in the Undertaking to be signed by the recipients of the microdata release. Some are prescribed in legislation; others can be determined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (e.g. non-matching with other data sets). The Microdata Review Panel may recommend conditions as part of their deliberations.
The next step is to get clearance from Policy Secretariat. They will check that the proposal conforms with legislation. They will also check that the proposal conforms with ABS policy on microdata release.
5. Supporting legislation
The relevant legislation is described in Annex 1.1.
It provides appropriate checks and balances and the full range of information required for the Australian Statistician to make an informed decision.
The assessment of some proposals can be labour-intensive. Also the investigation may take effort. This can result in delays in decision making particularly when multiple proposals are being considered at the same time.
30 Aug 2013