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Australia Conducting Electronic Census 174

Posted by timothy
from the please-list-ammunition-separately dept.
ajdlinux writes "On 8th August 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will be conducting the 2006 Census of Population and Housing. The big difference this year is that you will now be able to fill out your census online. The technology, developed by IBM, cost AU$9 million and is designed to be accessible to screen readers, and, unlike similar efforts in Canada, does not require any special software. However, there is concern that the 2011 eCensus could be integrated with the proposed Human Services Access Card. Will this turn the Census from an anonymous snapshot into one connected with name-identified information?"
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Australia Conducting Electronic Census

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  • by Zab UvWxy (694326) on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:31AM (#15844621) Journal
    Funny, I filled in my household's data the week the census was opened for submissions, and I sure don't recall having to install any special software. Maybe it was a Java applet, but it sure as hell wasn't anything that I had to take action on.

    Fellow Canuckleheads, did you have to install anything?

    • Fellow Canuckleheads, did you have to install anything?

      Yeah, I had to install this fancy program called a 'web browser'.

      Seriously, I did mine using Safari on OS X, and I surf with plugins disabled. It could still have used Java, but that's it.

    • Firefox. But it's a special browser.
    • Here are the software requirements

      http://www50.statcan.ca/census2006/settings_1-0_e. htm/ [statcan.ca]

      Which looks fairly inclusive. The only "special" things that I can see is that you must have any one of several Java virtual machines installed and support 128 bit encryption. It all seems reasonable.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        When the census site was initially rolled-out, it rejected browsers running on Linux. That was changed after complaints were made and it was noted there was nothing about the site as it was that wouldn't work with Linux.
        • Ah, interesting. I was wondering about that actually. If I recall, I originally went to the website and it said it supported Firefox but then it rejected me, so, confused and slightly miffed, I proceeded to fill out the paper version. Now I know why... I was using Linux. Good to know they have fixed this.

          Strange that it would specifically have a problem with FF on Linux. Strikes me as the symptoms of a script that checks for specific browser versions using an identifier string, instead of checking for brows
    • just my seamonkey and possibly the java runtime.
      no hassle, quick and easy it was.
    • I Already had Java installed. How hard is it to install Java and a web browser? Worked fine. The only sickening thing about the Canadian census was it was being handled by an american firm. Like I want my information sifted through by the american government just because it goes through an american proxy and is subject to american laws? Screw that.
      • American firm? What's your evidence?

        My brother-in-law was actually working for Statscan this summer, and he's Canadian. As is his office, here in Toronto, and the other offices he mentioned (Calgary and Montreal).
    • By special software, yes I was referring to Java. Java's bad because as we all know it's proprietary. So it's impossible to use it on a completely open source system.
    • The only problem I saw with the Canadian census was that it used some weird java applet to submit data and was incredibly slow (taking ~1minute to submit each page). This was perhaps due to load, but because of the abstraction of the java applet, when you clicked 'next', it didn't actually look like the browser was doing anything. It took me several tries to do the census, since I was watching TV at the same time while waiting for the page loads, and it timed me out a couple of times when I didn't notice a
      • the whole thing seemed very.. over-engineered?


        On a government website?? Impossible! ;-)
      • That Java applet packaged up all the information, signed and encrypted it with credentials that were uniquely assigned to you. This provided end to end (from your browser all the way to the backend database) encryption and integrity protection, which is something that banking web sites do not have. Banks don't need it because if there is a problem, you will notice pretty quickly, pick up the phone, and do something about it. For the census, on the other hand, how would you know whether or not your data h
      • It probably was Java instead of HTML + CSS ( + Javascript, maybe ), because more computers support it. Think about people running default IE back on Windows 98. This is Canada - you want to be as inclusive as possible!

        But I doubt that future census efforts in Canada will continue to use Java applets. Next time it will be DHTML (XHTML + CSS + Javascript).
    • ...which means it has an accuracy rate somewhat south of Wikipedia and you shouldn't take article postings at their word.

      I filled out my Canadian census on-line using Firefox on SuSE Linux and it worked fine. It DID rely on Java--is this what the poster referred to as "special software"? It seems to me that a JVM isn't all that "special" nor did I have to do a special installation of it to participate in the census.

      Perhaps the Australian version is Java-free, but it's hardly an innovation of any kind, muc
  • NZ did it first :-) (Score:5, Informative)

    by roca (43122) on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:32AM (#15844624) Homepage
    The NZ census held earlier this year supported Web-based online filing. It was a very clean UI (some touches of DHTML to streamline the interface), worked in IE, Firefox, Safari and Opera, and overall seemed to work very well indeed.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It was a very clean UI (some touches of DHTML to streamline the interface), worked in IE, Firefox, Safari and Opera,

      Thanks :) Although it was Asp.Net we ended up using standards-compliant validators and it worked well. Our performance testing meant that it didn't come down during peak times too.

      IBM have a poor performance record in Australia, anyone remember their Olympics site which was an accessibility nightmare and how they lied to say it would cost 50M to support WAI Level 1?

      • IBM's Sydney Olympics site was a LONG time ago in terms of technology - It was launched almost 7 years ago.

        We've all moved on and learned since then. It is no longer acceptable to quote $50M for a website. People have worked out that it's not actually /that/ complex.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yep, NZ did it in March this year. And there was a *lot* of effort put into ensuring that the interface worked on pretty much every graphical browser known to man. Or the big four, at least. Another interesting aspect was the effort put into supporting a Maori language version.

      A very well-run project by Statistics NZ and partners, even if they didn't quite get the number of online respondees they were expecting.

      http://subs.nzherald.co.nz/column/story.cfm?c_id=7 09&ObjectID=10371864 [nzherald.co.nz]
    • I was impressed how smoothly the online NZ census worked. I used Firefox and had by wife use IE. It was quick, easy and worked flawlessly. The Aussies will stuff theirs up though...:-P
  • by Frogbert (589961) <frogbert@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:33AM (#15844627)
    I'd like to see the hardware they have to handle the web traffic. There will be litterally millions of people trying to access the webpage on the day. I'd really like to submit my information electronically but I'm not going to wait around for ages to do it if the system dies in the arse.

    I'd rather fill out the form if its going to take me just as much time to submit it online.

    Assuming the system stands up to the traffic I'm all for it. I can type my details much faster then write them and I don't have to talk to the census collector when they come to get it.

    Also:
    Jedi as your religion FTW!
  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:34AM (#15844629) Homepage
    The Canadian online census form required a web browser and Java [statcan.ca]. While that's a step up from being a plain HTML form, I think calling it "special software" is a bit of an exaggeration.
    • Well, it didn't work for me. I s'pose I'm not the typical Canadian, but Firefox on Linux is not supported by the 2006 Canadian census (although Firefox on Windows is).

      At first I thought it was 'cause I'm running a 64-bit Firefox on AMD64, but even the 32-bit version on my x86 laptop wouldn't let me finish. I tried to bypass their checks using a Firefox plugin that spoofs the User Agent, but then it froze part way through and I lost all my work. I was very frustrated, to say the least, considering it's j

      • Seconded. For a website full of posts about people not being able to get Java working properly in Linux, to websites going out of their way to block alternative (read: non-IE) browsers, it amazes me the number of people who have no idea that there could have been a problem here.

        Java + Firefox + Ubuntu works just tickety-boo on my desktop. The Canadian census site didn't seem to think so, and I had to revert to the spare Windows laptop I had kicking around. Highly annoying.

        Canadian government: not everyone r
  • by Umbral Blot (737704) on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:41AM (#15844647) Homepage
    It is silly to worry about the cenusus being used to collect your personal information. The government already does that much more frequently and accurately through taxes.
    • by askegg (599634)
      While the government could track certain things about you via BAS statements and tax returns, there is a LOT more information available in census data.
    • ...assuming you're in fact a tax payer (or at least have a tax file number), which of course, not everybody is.
      • The people who don't pay taxes (the poor) aren't important to the government. They have no voice, nor can they afford weapons to create unrest. Of course children don't pay taxes either, but their parents note them as dependants, so the government does have a record of them.
        • I disagree - surely the government is very interested to know how many people are out there who require social welfare (poor) and education (children). Whether or not they choose to do anything about it (i.e. provide "adequate" social welfare/health/education) is of course another matter entirely.
          • I was talking about collection information about individuals in a privacy invasive way. The government has no need or desire to do that in order to set up whatever public services for the poor the voters insist on.
  • Just think about it for a second if a site that will hold that kind of information is going to get more traffic than a slashdotted site. Hope they don't do it in the US because no server the goverment can afford take that kind of beatting or cowboyneal could give to it!
  • Little old lady knocked on the door, gave me all the gear I needed. You get the normal forms and then an envelope containing your online code to be entered in for your household. I'll give the online one a bash and then fashion the paper one into a nice evening jacket...
  • How can it be anonymous when you have to give your name, address, where you work, and what you are currently doing as well as the IP address if you are doing it online and other random bits of information. This is the most invasive census I've ever been a part of.
    • So use the paper version.
      • The paper version asks for:
        1. Address of where you spend the night on 8/8/06
        2. Other people living at the same place that night.
        3. Gender
        4. Date of Birth or age
        5. Relationship to other people in (1) and (2)
        6. Marital status
        7. Aboriginality
        8. Usual address
        9. Usual address 12 months ago
        10. Usual address 5 years ago
        11. Citizenship

        ...And so on in the same vein. Okay, it doesn't ask for your IP address, but it still asks a bit!

  • by sasha328 (203458) on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:53AM (#15844681) Homepage
    The census comes around every 5 years. The questions are so bland, and demographic as to really make this census, not useless, but a wasted opportunity.
    It would have been so easy to include some extra questions (not political ones, because no government would agree in mid-term), but rather social questions. Like some national survey instead of a selective one (like a poll of a 1000 people).
    I can think of one question that would be highly applicable to all Australians:
    Would you support recycled sewerage being pumped back to the potable water supply?
    Or
    Rate your preference for a solution to the water shortage problems: 1) Desalination, 2) recycling, 3) more dams, 4) long distance canals, 5) relocate the towns/cities, etc...

    But, all the questions are related to how do you get to work, how much do you earn and where do you study...
    Sad. Same questions as last census.
    Hopefully in the future this will change.
    • The reason they don't ask for your views is that the census is run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and they couldn't give a stuff about people's opinions. Their job is to assemble population snapshot data.
      • (re: the ABS not giving a stuff about people's opinions)

        Except of course for that one little (optional? I wouldn't know, I haven't even looked at the last two Oz censuses, much less filled them out) question about religious affiliation. Which, of course, is about the only question with which the form-fillers can have a bit of fun. Damn Jedi :).

        • This information is to help decide where to put new churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, whatever. To do that you have to know where the people who need them are.
          • You may have misunderstood me a tad. I wasn't meaning to imply that the question was entirely valueless (though it is - if religious communities can't work out where to build their disinformation centres, fuck them), I was taking an opportunity to mock religion as nothing more than an (ill-informed) opinion :-).

            The overall effects of including such a question in the census are (IMHO) more negative than positive. People really don't need more excuses to separate themselves from the dreaded "Others". I can e

          • This information is to help decide where to put new churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, whatever. To do that you have to know where the people who need them are.

            Your government builds your churches? How bizarre! Or do the religions have your government do their market research for them? What's next? You get asked how often you invest in stock market schemes so that shady brokerages will know to whom they should canvas?
             
    • Please, spare us (Score:5, Insightful)

      by violet16 (700870) on Friday August 04, 2006 @01:40AM (#15844820)

      Christ, the last thing you want is to start putting questions like that on a census.

      Almost all social research can deliver highly accurate findings using a relatively small sample. Interviewing one thousand people will give you extremely high levels of confidence in the results, providing of course you don't fuck up the methodology. After that, you're mostly wasting everybody's time.

      Australians are required to complete the census by law. Even if you make the questions optional, adding a bunch of "nice-to-know"s is a big misuse of national manpower. And just imagine the kind of push-polling you'd get if you opened the floodgates and let government departments throw in social-research questions. ("Do you support the government protecting the lives of unborn babies by banning stem cell research?")

      There's a need for social research, and governments already do enormous amounts of it. But you don't need to interview 20 million people to find out that most people don't like the idea of drinking recylcled sewerage.

      • Australian here...

        It's actually a common misconception amoung our population that when the people behind water saving development schemes refer to "waste water", people imagine they are talking about recycling sewerage. Of course this is not true, infact when they refer to waste water they mean in the form of "storm water".

        In many cases the storm water, after similar treatment to dam water is much cleaner then dam water itself, having not been prone to turbidity and eutrophication, as well as having lower l
      • Seriously where do you think water comes from? Magic sky fairies? If we can develop a system that recycles water even close to what the natural rain cycle does, then it would be a hell of a lot better quality then most current dams (which get polluted by all sorts of things). You do realise that fish and birds quite happily crap in the dams don't you?
    • by 1u3hr (530656) on Friday August 04, 2006 @02:16AM (#15844908)
      I can think of one question that would be highly applicable to all Australians: Would you support recycled sewerage being pumped back to the potable water supply?

      How about "Have you stopped beating your wife?".

      All water is "recycled sewage". Every drop you drink has been pissed out of billions of creatures. Back to the question: You have to give alternatives, obviously no one will choose to drink "recycled sewage" whewn you ask that question. What is the alternative "fresh, clean, distilled water at zero cost"? (I think not.) Paying more for desalinated water? Paying more to pipe it in from thousands of miles away? Singapore has been drinking "recycled sewage" for decades, and a more antiseptic place you've never seen.

      • I think you missed his point. Queenslanders recently voted [theage.com.au] not to recycle their water on the grounds that it's too icky. OP was just curious as to whether we're all that stupid.
        • I think you missed his point.

          Maybe I was unfair to him. But it's still a loaded question. If you look at, e.g., the amount of rat shit or preservatives legally permitted in food, who would agree to that if you asked them? There is no choice for "pure" food and drink, everything is polluted to an extent. And I had a look at your link; "Citizens Against Drinking Sewage". What a bunch of loonies, the same kind of idiots who opposed fluoridation and gave me a mouthful of fillings in my teens.

    • The US sent out 4-page form to 5/6ths and a 13-page form to 1/6. So it does both a full ennumeration (as the law requires) and a statistical esitmate.
  • by NewsWatcher (450241) on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:55AM (#15844688)
    "Will this turn the Census from an anonymous snapshot into one connected with name-identified information?"

    I would think another problem is that it will mean the census is no longer a snapshot of a single day in Australia.

    Check out this article [theage.com.au].

    • And no one ever filled in their census forms before the "official" day before now?
    • Here's another question. How much of a difference does that really make? I mean, if it's a snapshot blurred over, say, seven days, and some people are born and some people die during the middle- so what? They were going to be born/die soon anyway, throwing off the census from reality. So is there something of value in the inherent "snapshot"-ness?
  • Special Software? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nuckfuts (690967) on Friday August 04, 2006 @12:59AM (#15844698)

    ...unlike similar efforts in Canada, does not require any special software.

    I filled out my Canadian census online and didn't need any special software. All I used was Firefox, IIRC.

  • Privacy groups have expressed concern that any Human Services Access Card could easily morph into a de facto Australia card and be used to house sensitive information. Human Services Minister Joe Hockey has dismissed such claims, saying the card will only have information on it which is approved by the holder.

    The Minister is probably right; they house sensitive information in a central database - the card itself only has a unique identifier on it.

    Seriously, by what process do I approve what is held on

    • Supposedly the US census locks up the actual data for 70 years, then releases it. Geneologists and other can use it then. The US aggregates the results in zip-code (single post-office) size chucks, but some people worry about the privacy of that.
  • by Swift(void) (655825) <swifferNO@SPAMinternode.on.net> on Friday August 04, 2006 @01:28AM (#15844789)
    Will this turn the Census from an anonymous snapshot into one connected with name-identified information?"
    Errr, the first 2 questions of the census is "Whats your address" and "Whats the name of everybody at this address on census night". They dont need some card to tie the data to particular people. They can already do that if they want, and have been able to for many many years. I am sure it would not take too much effort for them to find out how much money i was earning 4 years ago, whether i have moved house, and what phoney religion i put in last time.
    • by Elvis77 (633162) on Friday August 04, 2006 @02:34AM (#15844941)
      The Commonwealth Government already know all about you if you:
      1. Pay taxes
      2. Get allowances for your children or
      3. Have a child born.

      When our 4th child was born I earned too much money to be able to claim the $15.00 per fortnight allowance so we didn't fill in the forms in the hospital ($15.00 I don't have to earn is better than a poke in the eye with a blunt stick right?). Three years later when Ethan was going to day care they (the Commonwealth Public Servants) had kittens

      "When did you adopt Ethan?", "Are you his natural mother?" "When did you get possession of Ethan?" His birth certificate sorted it out in the end.

      For the non Aussies out there the State Government registers births and issues birth certificates but the Commonwealth Government pays the $15.00 per fortnight and childcare allowance.
    • by Politas (1535)
      Those questions are on a section of the form which is discarded before data entry. The names and addresses are only used in the data collection stage. It does not become part of the census dataset.

      And yes, I used to work for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, so I know what I'm talking about.

      It is completely impossible for anyone working at the Bureau of Stats to find out how much money any individual earned four years ago. (Well, apart from some statistical outliers.) The part of the form with the names
      • Please don't put in phony religions. If you're an atheist, say so. The Census is important.

        Why is it important, and for whom ? I'm genuinely interested what effect it has if I put down a phony religion. Can't the census people figure out that pastafarian==athiest anyway ?

        Last census I put down "Jedi", as did others. Specifically, what problems did that cause ?

        • by Politas (1535)
          There was a study done recently that compared quality of life and certain indicators of "progressive societies" to percentage of atheists. Such a study can only use the statistics as published by the ABS to garner information about how many atheists are in Australia. Religious figures use statistics as support for their drive to make secular law similar to religious law.

          The ABS cannot make assumptions about what people "actually mean". If you put down "Jedi" or "Pastafarian", then your form will be coded as
          • Fair enough, thanks..

            I'm not sure that me putting down "athiest" on a form is going to help get rid of people listening to religious whackos though.
            It's not like us athiests are wanting tax breaks on our churches..... (They're still not counting pubs as athiest churches, right ?)

            At least I'm not in the USA, where religious whackos really are running the country. Not sure if that would make me any more likely to put down "athiest" on a form though, seeing as el capitan bush claims atheists aren't true Ameri
  • by Zelbinian (992687)
    The strange thing about the Australian census is they're really strict about it. I'm an exchange student here right now, and despite the fact that I'm not an Australian citizen and may never be, I have just as much obligation to fill this out and fast. We get like, 1 or 2 days to fill it out and turn it in or we're charged fines of $100/day until it's done. Makes you wonder what happens to people traveling who can't even get the paperwork, nevermind to somewhere that they can drop it off.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:2, Interesting)

      by astromog (866411)
      That's a common practice, and it can lead to some amusing events. One (sort of) lucky census collector got to briefly ride on one of the world's biggest cruise liners [nzherald.co.nz] during NZ's census earlier this year.
    • by fabs64 (657132)
      If you don't get given the paperwork by someone then filling it in's not your problem.
      And afaik they hand out the forms a good week before the count date.
    • by Pete (2228)

      I can only say that I haven't filled it out for at least the last two times and I haven't been hassled by anyone. Maybe I'm just lucky. We'll see.

      I've often wondered how high that $100/day bullshit could go before it falls into the too-stupid-for-words category. So, not filling in a form gets you a fine that's much larger than that for not voting, for driving over the speed limit, drink-driving, physical assault... and unlike all the others, it keeps increasing. Yeah, right :).

    • If you are staying at a hotel or other public facility, they will give you a copy of the Census to complete. If you are staying at a friends, you are supposed to be included on their household form. IF you are overseas presumably you don't need to fill it in.

  • The already can track you with the paper forms, but they don't and are forbidden by law to do so. http://tinyurl.com/juxwc [tinyurl.com] This is not America, despite the current government's best efforts.
    • Australia is not known for having the government break the law. Politicians, that's a different matter. But when the ABS collects data, they are bound under the Census and Statistics Act never to release it without permission (e.g. Census Q59), and even with directions from the Minister they can only release non-identifying information. I don't really see this as a privacy issue myself. I actually don't really have much problem with the new e-passports and welfare cards, as they actually have good points (
  • Jedi,

    Down under, may the force be with you!
  • by dcam (615646) <david&uberconcept,com> on Friday August 04, 2006 @02:29AM (#15844931) Homepage
    I can say the they have done quite a good job. It is pretty slick. Some DHTML (mostly disabling questions based on earlier answers).

    I imagine it will seriously cut down the amount of time taken to process the census. I have a friend who works on this stuff so I might ask him.

    One complaint they have is that lots of people are filling out the census before the actual census night. This is allowed, you are answering questions about what will be happening on a night in the future.
  • by bunhed (208100)
    The Canadian census fiasco caused me no end of grief. They never sent me a form and then hounded me for a month about not sending the form they didn't send me in. Then one day I get a notice pinned to my door, without the form of course, threatening jail time and fines (3 months and $500). Well that's motivating so I tried to fill the thing out on-line but since I did not get a form I did not get a special code to punch in. On top of all that the java thing wouldn't run in FF and linux anyway. (At least the
    • I thought the Canadian census went pretty well. I filled out the form online and despite that the Canadian Goverment had the genuine deceny pay for a gorgeous girl to comeover and tell me that I had an apartment "B" attached to my house when clearly I didn't (The must have noticed that I indicated I was "single" on the form). I invited her to share some wine in the garden with me and we are now both very thankfull to the Canadian goverment. Thanks guys....
  • I've been in and had a quick look and it's a nice site that works under Linux (all you need is Javascript enabled).

    What will be fun though are the answers to specific questions. There is a grassroots push for anyone who doesn't wish to answer the religion question to put FSM or Pastafarian (Flying Spaghetti Monster if you were wondering, as a protest against intelligent design) in. This would be more fun tha listing Jedi as 70,000 people did in 2001, and as we have the option to release full uncensored det
  • Are there Jedi (70k last time) [wikipedia.org] and Pastafarian [venganza.org] tick boxes?
  • It's important to understand that it's not purely electronic. The forms are delivered to homes by hand and an estimate of the number of people expected to be there that evening is collected. The forms have a unique ID code on them that must be used when submitting online.

    These measures make it a LOT harder to submit garbage census results en-masse. Not impossible, I'm sure, but I think it'd be pretty hard to pull off major bogus submissions, let alone undetectably.

    That said, I'd love to see what Bruce Schne
  • Who came up with that one?

    I filed my census return online in Firefox a couple of weeks ago. It took only about 10 minutes in total (actually less, maybe 5). I actually _enjoyed_ the process.

    Maury
  • See statement from the Australian Statistician "Statement by the Australian Statistician confirming the confidentiality of the Census There have been suggestions of a possible link between the Census and the forthcoming Access Card, otherwise known as the 'Smartcard'. I can give an iron clad guarantee that absolutely no individual Census information will be provided for inclusion on the Access Card. Besides, it would be illegal to do so. There are very strong secrecy provisions in the statistics legislat
  • We had our Census 2006 [statcan.ca] a few months ago online ...

    Of course, paper still works today, one can't assume EVERYONE has internet access or want to use it ...

    Beat ya to it aussies ...
  • I filled out the Canada Census online.

    I required no special software ... unless you consider an ordinary web browser to be special.

  • The Canada site didn't support Linux and Firefox, so I just waited it out until the census people called me. They had to make it stupidly difficult...

There's got to be more to life than compile-and-go.

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