A tipster who worked as a census collector in 2011 tells us that privacy concerns are valid, even with paper forms, relating this story about a census collector with a laissez-faire attitude to privacy:

“As I collected the forms, my job was to open the form and look at the front inside cover and record the form’s number (from my recollection, I think it was a number) to ensure all forms were accounted for. I was told that I was not to look past the inside cover or at any other other part of the form and I adhered to this instruction with absolute diligence so as not to even inadvertently view anyone’s personal information. I am personally protective of my policy and accord others the same respect.

“I returned forms a number of times to my supervisor and on one occasion she proceeded to excitedly tell me that I lived right next door to a man she used to know. She went on to explain how she had known my neighbour many years before and that how she saw he now had a child, etc, etc.  She was laughing about what a coincidence it was that I lived right next door to him and how she had read all of this in his Census form. When she finally noticed the stunned look on my face, she stopped in her tracks and quickly changed the subject. Sadly, although I felt very uneasy about the whole episode, I did nothing and for years I have regretted not reporting her. Clearly, she had been reading through the forms and she was my supervisor!”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey