In the aftermath of one of the biggest digital collapses in Australian history, the Turnbull government’s response to the Census fail has left more questions than it has answers, as officials continue to flip-flop over vague technical explanations and even contradict themselves on whether the DDOS attack it announced this morning was even an attack.
In the following opinion piece, Ethan Nash takes a look at some of the companies and departments behind the 2016 Census and gives a brief history of government behaviour with the privacy of Australian citizens.
Last night, as an estimated two-thirds of the Australian population went online to complete the 2016 Census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) experienced mass outages of the website, preventing thousands of people from completing the survey.
After many attempts to fix the servers, and a shut-down of telephone operators, late on Tuesday night the ABS admitted defeat, issuing a statement to say the service would not be restored before morning.
Both ABS statistician David Kalisch and the census’ social media accounts cited “attacks” as the reason for the website crash, and senior cabinet minister Christopher Pyne also cited “overseas hackers” when addressing media earlier this morning.
However, Australian Census Minster, Michael McCormack insisted it was “not an attack”, just hours after both claims were made, immediately contradicting the underlying causes of the outage and adding further confusion to the situation.
Mark Gregory from RMIT University also supported the statements, stating the site could have been brought down simply by increased traffic.
Really, if you had 5 or 6 million households all trying to do the census at the same time, that’s very similar to a denial of service of attack.
So we need some evidence, some proof that this was from outside Australia and not just simply Australians trying to do the census.
The government has also failed to explain why – if the reason for shutting down the servers was to stop a DDOS attack – the servers continue to be down today, and how it could be a foreign attack when the ABS blocked traffic to international IP addresses at 11am yesterday.
Either way, regardless of conclusion as to why the Census website failed, many citizens see the incident as an incompetent mistake that the government couldn’t stop in any case. However, this is not the first time the establishment has been caught on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to ensuring the public protection of their privacy, and this serves as a perfect example of why privacy advocates have been so concerned previously.
BREACHING THE TRUST:
Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull said he shared the ABS’s “regret” over the inconvenience caused by the site being taken offline, but stressed that Australians’ data was ‘secure’.
The site will be restored as soon as the Australian Signal Directorate and the ABS and IBM are satisfied that it can be restored with all of the necessary defences against denial of service and other attacks are in place.
Despite the claims, let’s not forget the history of our government with sensitive information like this, even when it is ‘secure’.
Currently, on a per capita basis, the Australian government is more than 18 times more likely to share your information than the United States Government, with agencies accessing telephone and internet data records an astonishing 250,000 times in 2012 without even recording why and when these intercepts had taken place.
Furthermore, each department mentioned by Turnbull currently investigating the crash have repeatedly shown the Australian public they cannot be trusted with intimate details that the Census collects on mass.
AUSTRALIAN SIGNAL DIRECTORATE:
In 2013, Edward Snowden leaked the most significant archive of classified documents in US history since the Pentagon Papers. Amongst the revelations of NSA spying and ‘Orwellian’ surveillance reach, the documents also revealed a connection detailing Australian intelligence organisations and their role in a global network of data monitoring, collecting and sharing.
Among revelations of metadata mining by the United States through its controversial PRISM program, it subsequently uncovered a unilateral intelligence community that includes Australia in a longstanding relationship.
We have a responsibility for contributing to the network from our own region – most notably South East Asia. The information in the system is then available to any of the ‘Five Eyes’ countries – the US, The UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The Australian Signals Directorate offered to share information collected about ordinary Australian citizens with its ‘Five Eyes’ partners according to documents leaked by Snowden. The document shows the partners discussing whether or not to share “medical, legal or religious information” in bulk, as the ASD is not restricted to some of the privacy restraints imposed by other countries.
This is the agency our Prime Minister says is securing the information??? What about the ABS?
AUSTRALIAN BUREAU OF STATISTICS:
At the end of last year, ABS announced that plan to retain “all the names and addresses” it had collected “to enable a richer and dynamic statistical picture of Australia.”
This decision was reached after conducting a rapid ‘internal assessment’ into the future of the Census – an assessment taken with no independent oversight. It follows two previous similar proposals, both of which were scrutinized under a process of oversight, and were rejected in 2006 and 2011.
Despite this, the ABS defended the decision to store mass information and ensured Australians their data would be secure – successful or not. However, despite the claims, the Herald Sun reported that the ABS earned $41 million last year selling their documents, according to internal documents.
No, thank you, ABS.
How about IBM, who was hired to ensure all of our information was secure?
IMB, the company contracted to maintain the cloud processing, was given over $500,000 of taxpayer money to ensure the ABS website could handle the traffic on Census night and maintain a secure connection.
The fail should come as no surprise, however, as IMB are the company responsible for the 2010 health payroll bungle in Queensland which cost taxpayers an estimated $1.2 billion when a flawed system went live.
The department’s director-general, Michael Walsh, told a budget estimates hearing a $900,000 contract with debt recovery company Australian Receivables had been established to recover $3.6 million from 1116 people.
Great choice, Australian government. Why would anyone ever be concerned with that ahead of Census night?
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
In the aftermath of what will be remembered as a catalyst for years to come, officials have announced Australians have until September 23 to complete the Census online, and the ABS said people would not be fined if they did not do it on census night.
The ABS statement reads:
There will be no fines for completing the census after August 9. There’s still plenty of time to complete the census. Thanks for your patience.
However, as explained above, and in our previous article, Census 2016: ‘The most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians’, this is NOT good enough.
After massively ramping up their surveillance of every citizen whilst taking compliance for granted, they have eroded public trust in their willingness to protect individual privacy.
As Nick Xenophon, Senator Scott Ludlam, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and privacy experts join a campaign of civil disobedience, resistance to mass extraction of intimate details will only grow from here.
The people want choice. They are tired of being treated like children.
The establishment has proven numerous times that they are not working in the best interests of Australians, and #CensusFail is just another example of why the public should never trust government authorities controlled by the same corporate interests they swear to protect us from.
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Listen to Ethan, John le Bon and Lindsay discuss the general apathy of the masses, historical studies of human ‘herd behaviour’, the importance of questioning government motives, and conformist programming through education, television & society on Episode #05 of the Australian Roundtable Podcast.
The Australian Roundtable Podcast is a Brisbane-based, independent news/analysis/discussion panel podcast which broadcasts live every Sunday from 3pm AEST. The show features an eclectic panel of presenters who come together each week to discuss recent and topical news and current affairs from Australia and around the world.
The show provides an alternative perspective to that presented by the mainstream media, and is aimed at listeners in Australia and abroad who are skeptical of the official narratives being pushed by governments and the corporate, controlled news.