The NSW branch of the Returned and Services League has called for the government to avoid prosecuting people who give fake names or withhold their name and address from the census, due to concerns for the privacy of current members of the Defence Force or veterans. Acting state president of the RSL John Haines says the RSL acknowledges the importance of the census, but there are questions about the security of this data and what that could mean for members of the Defence Force.

“We should be very concerned that the census regulations require everyone resident in Australia, including those in high-security positions, both civilian and military, to submit their personal identification,” he said.

Haines told Crikey that the RSL was particularly concerned about what could happen to the information, and the possibility that it could result in a threat to their lives. “ADF members, a lot of those members have roles that move into the top secret bracket whether they are serving overseas or here in Australia, and our organisation, we are a spokesperson for the ADF, and our concern is that the wrong people could get the information in regards to the ADF and use it,” he said.

This year is the first time the census will retain people’s names and addresses for four years, storing it in a database with the other data collected in the census. Privacy advocates are concerned with the security of the information being kept, and if their details will remain anonymous.

“As an organisation whose priority is the welfare of serving Australian Defence Force members and ex-service members, our concern is their privacy may be breached if data collected by the census falls into the hands of those who may take advantage of that data,” he said.

Haines also cited the way soldiers and their families were treated during the Vietnam War as a reason for ADF personnel to be concerned about the privacy and security of their information. “We’re just worried about what might happen if the wrong people get hold of [the information].”

The RSL is not calling for people to boycott the census or give false names, but the organisation wants the government to commit to extra security around the information.

“RSL members — we’re conservative, we’re obedient, we understand that the census has to take place, and we’re not advocating that people don’t fill it out.”

Peter Fray

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