A former ABS statistician just told the Senate committee his old employer now made him 'cringe'

Photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images.

The ABS is today facing a Senate committee to explain how it botched the 2016 census collection.

On August 9, a 40-hour outage caused havoc for millions of Australians trying to fill out their forms online.

The ABS blamed a distributed denial of service (DDoS) “attack” for the breakdown, saying the census website was unable to handle an unusually large level of traffic which it believed came from Singapore.

The disruption took several days to level out, and ultimately, it could cost Australian taxpayers $30 million.

In the weeks that followed, the ABS blamed IBM, claiming it should have done more to prevent an outside attack. IBM used geo-blocking to ensure only Australians could access the form, but in turn blamed one of its subcontractors, Vocus, for leaving one international link open.

In its submission to today’s enquiry, IBM said:

“Had NextGen (and through it Vocus) properly implemented Island Australia, it would have been effective to prevent this DDoS attack and the effects it had on the eCensus site.”

Vocus, the target of IBM’s blame, said the attack in question was not significant enough to bring down the census website.

Today, all parties involved are in front of the Senate to explain their part in the debacle. The ABS will get its first hearing this afternoon, but before that, former ABS chief statistician Bill McLennan wasted no time letting his feelings about his former employer be known.

“They are lacking numbers of people with experience,” he said. “There’s been a great loss of experience out of the ABS.”

McLennan chose to focus on the other controversial aspect of the 2016 census – the stipulation that households were forced to submit names.

The ABS launched a public campaign to ensure Australians that their private data would not be used or sold in any other capacity, and that actually, Australians had been handing over the same information on the census since 1910.

“I personally think that is wrong,” McLennan said this morning.

“In our knowledge it’s always been collected on a voluntary basis.”

He “doubted” that making people provide the information was covered by any relevant legislation and that in Australia, “No one likes to be told to do something.”

“Or maybe that’s just me. That gets people’s backs up.

“When you’re dealing with the Australian population you’ve got to get them on side.”

When he saw the public information campaign about this year’s Census, McLennan said he “cringed” when he saw it.

More to come.

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