• An error message is seen on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census of Population and Housing website, as seen on an iPhone. (AAP)
A Senate committee says many parties didn't live up to their responsibilities in the bungled 2016 census but the main responsibility is with the government.
Source:
AAP
24 Nov 2016 - 6:16 PM  UPDATED 24 Nov 2016 - 6:29 PM

A Senate inquiry has concluded there were many obvious oversights in preparation for the bungled 2016 census but the main responsibility lay with the government.

The census, mostly conducted online on the night of August 9, was marred by cyber attacks which prompted the Australian Bureau of Statistics to shut it down for almost two days.

The Senate economics references committee said the census was a useful but expensive exercise, with a budget of $470 million.

But ABS funding had been eroded while demands and expectations had increased. Issues of financial and human resourcing must be reassessed, the non-government dominated committee said.

"While many parties have not lived up to their responsibilities in delivering the 2016 census, the primary responsibility lies with the government," it said.

The committee said the threat of cyber attack and intrusion would only increase and the ABS, which collects and stores a wide array of data, should be particularly well-equipped.

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It made 16 recommendations to ensure the planned 2021 census proceeds smoothly, including appropriate resourcing.

In a statement, Minister for Small Business Michael McCormack said the government "has accepted all the recommendations of the report".

"IBM has apologised to the Government and the Australian public for the outage on Census night. The Government has reached a commercial-in-confidence settlement with IBM on this matter."

The 2016 census was termed the eCensus as it was intended to be mostly completed online, saving about $100 million. IBM, which worked with the ABS on two earlier censuses, was given the job.

The committee said concerns about privacy had been a regular feature of recent censuses and this year's event especially so as the ABS planned to retain names and addresses, initially indefinitely but finally for up to four years.

That was a significant change which warranted much more public consultation and external scrutiny.

"That level of consultation undertaken by the ABS in the lead-up to this decision was manifestly inadequate, especially considering the changes affect every Australian household," the report said.

Although concerns were expressed about security of census data, the committee concluded the risk was small, although the ABS needed to work harder to reassure the community their data was safe.

Census day started with a pair of distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS) which were repulsed. DDOS occur when malicious actors use a network of compromised computers to repeatedly seek to access and overload the census website.

A third DDOS occurred on census night and was also repulsed. But a fourth raised concerns of data leakage and IBM shut off the census, which ABS didn't reopen until the afternoon of August 11.

Despite the problems, the ABS said the census response rate was over 96 per cent, comparable with censuses in 2006 and 2011.

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