A cursory look at the fallout from last Tuesday’s #censusfail and at the issues confronting the ABS will point to some pretty scary consequences for this country.
We all know that the conservative governments have this commitment to privatisation in their DNA even though many will tell them that they should tread carefully.
Privatisation is not the panacea for all public sector evils.
As an aside I remember when in the public service and in charge of a car pool, we were told that the whole system would be centralised with economies to flow. What actually happened was the whole thing was privatised once centralised and instantly cost an extra 12% which was the profit margin of the private sector.
Indeed, the officer working to me who had responsibility for the car pool in ACT Health and again in ACT Education, actually made money out of the resale of cars after certain periods of actual agency ownership. That disappeared.
Back to the ABS. Management decided to outsource the IT function of the ABS to IBM for about $10 million. The same people tried to further cut the ABS by introducing 10 year censuses instead of five year censuses. Talk about messing with death!
What happened? The integrity of the system was compromised and it had a breakdown. It had a seizure. That seizure is called a denial of service attack. It was hacked! Call the spade a bloody shovel why don’t you?
So the political response was to bring in the cops! The Australian Signals Directorate (reads spooks) comes in to see what damage to national security has occurred only to give it the green light.
But the damage has been done.
The issue, apart from the physical intervention, is really the notion of trust and risk. The commentariat has bleated on and on about breaches of privacy (even if the Privacy Commissioner doesn’t see a problem) and the trust that the ABS can keep private information private has been compromised.
This just proves the point that governments can transfer financial liability for a project to the private sector but they can’t transfer the risk. Culpability for failure will always rest with the Government of the day. This is why the PM came out so firmly and so threateningly. But he can’t escape the fact that his government took the funds away, his government emasculated the ABS and now is looking for a scapegoat.
The reputation of the ABS may never be the same. Who can trust it to function properly ever again? We forget that the Australian Government and people of Australia are not the only customers of the ABS. Business relies on the accuracy and integrity of the data. Well perhaps not now.
One needs now to look at repercussions in the wider government service arena. How much confidence can we have in the Centrelink and other social service IT systems? We’ve already seen Centrelink delay pension payments because of IT glitches, so is the ABS just another symptom of a wider malaise? I think so.
As a further aside, why anyone would rely on an international company domiciled in another country for its information integrity and security is beyond me.
What about the proposal for online voting? We have electronic voting now in the ACT and there has been a movement promoting online voting as an extension. Who’s going to support this now? How can we have confidence in the respect of our privacy? We can’t.
Someone I spoke to yesterday likened this debacle to that of the Australia Card proposal which got killed in the mid-’80s. It got killed because no one could guarantee that the data collected would be safe from being hacked. The same conversation happened around the metadata retention recently.
My mate who is a tech head says this debacle has put back online voting 20 years. Perhaps he’s right.
I’ve never been a fan of privatising personal information. I have always been wary of the Big Brother attitude of the banks. I object to being canvassed by people who have accessed my personal information from so-called secure sites.
This debacle has not helped!