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Census: ‘Heads Will Roll,’ PM Pledges – And His May Be One

Census: ‘Heads Will Roll,’ PM Pledges – And His May Be One

Malcolm Turnbull is angry – indeed, he says, “very angry” – after Tuesday’s census bungle that brought the bean-counting process to its knees. The PM said yesterday that “heads will roll” over the matter, unconsciously echoing yesterday’s CDN page 1 heading “#CensusFail: heads will roll” – but not mentioning the suggestion by CDN and many others that one of the rolling heads might well be that of Turnbull himself.

As the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday bravely turned the online census site back on – still with its much-criticised requirement that citizens’ names and addresses be recorded and held for at least four years, along with their personal and family details in accessible government databases – the online-conscious PM sought to distance himself from the blunder, blaming technology giant IBM and public servants for the Tuesday collapse of the online census proposal.

The PM, who has previously stressed his command over digital areas of government, said the disaster was a “completely predictable” cyber assault on the national population survey that had not been prepared for or repelled.

Turnbull has ordered a review by the Australian Signals Directorate of what went wrong when millions of Australians tried to go online to fill in their census forms, only to find the ABS site in meltdown. IBM, which won a $9 million fee to set up and run the system appears to be very much in the spotlight.

Following weeks of debate and outcry over the privacy and security of census information, the ABS’s woes were compounded by the attacks, which left millions of households unable to access the service, while many among those who did succeed were dismayed at discovering that personal census material–  including their names and addresses – is to be kept on file for government agencies, and possibly others, to peck over for years.

Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after insisting he was “generally satisfied” with the security provisions protecting census data, Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim emerged to confirm his office is planning its own investigation into the attacks to ensure that no personal information has been compromised.

Questions are now being raised over the design and testing of the census systems, particularly involving the role of IBM which won a $9.6 million contract to host the census form online. It was unclear yesterday how much of the $9 million has already been paid to Big Blue, and whether the remainder can be withheld following the inevitable inquiries.

In fact the inquiries into what went wrong are likely to be much wider, with independent senator Nick Xenophon calling for a Senate inquiry into the debacle.

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