ABS DATA ACCESS ARRANGEMENTS
The ABS is Australia’s national statistical agency, providing trusted official statistics on a wide range of economic, social, population and environmental matters of importance to Australia. This information is accessible through a wide range of data services, including the release of over 500 statistical publications per year.
To succeed in its mission, the ABS is constantly improving the usefulness of its data through innovations that provide better access to data, which do not compromise the community’s expectations of keeping sensitive information secret, secure and protected. The current frontier is integrated data, where data from different sources is brought together to provide fresh insights about communities, families, industry and the economy. Its application requires a continued focus on secrecy, security and privacy.
THE CURRENT STATE OF PLAY
The ABS has invested significantly in enhancing data access through a combination of new approaches and infrastructure.
Online access to data
The ABS statistical releases remain a vital part of its work. A growing number of users are accessing more sophisticated data products, such as ABS TableBuilder, which allows subscribers to design customised output, confidentialised in real time. This builds on the tables and spreadsheets already freely available on the ABS website.
An ABS DataLab has been established to meet increasing demand for more detailed data – called microdata – that allows researchers to perform complex analysis. A protected IT environment that can be accessed at ABS offices or virtually, the ABS DataLab provides access to a range of microdata files.
Since its establishment, ABS DataLab usage has grown steadily with a total of 200 microdata files now available to more than 400 authorised users, including over 70 non-government researchers. More than 10 of these microdata files are from integrated datasets.
ABS and security of information
The role of the ABS and the way it collects, manages and releases data is governed by legislation set by Parliament. This legislation ensures the secrecy of information while enabling its use for public benefit. As a steward of data, the ABS takes its responsibility to ensure secrecy very seriously.
The ABS currently has a number of controls in place to ensure data access is managed securely and is for policy analysis, research and statistical purposes. This includes:
- Managing access to the ABS DataLab using the Five Safes Framework, an internationally recognised mechanism for making effective use of data while controlling for risks using a number of levers – safe people, safe projects, safe settings, safe data and safe outputs. For more information on the Five Safes, see the ABS Confidentiality Series.
- Limiting access to the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP), while it is still in an evaluation phase, to a small number of Commonwealth government researchers following secondment to the ABS, under the ABS Act 1975. A small number of controlled trials, under the Five Safes Framework, for non-government researchers will commence in 2018.
- Limiting access to the Business Longitudinal Analysis Data Environment (BLADE) to government employees following secondment to the ABS. A small number of controlled trials, under the Five Safes Framework, for non-government researchers have also commenced.
The ABS is committed to responding to the changing information priorities of its stakeholders, including researchers, whilst taking care to protect privacy and maintain the trust of its data providers and balancing priorities on the ABS Forward Work Program.
Continuing to ensure easy access to data
The ABS will continue to focus on making data easily accessible by all Australians online through the provision of tables and spreadsheets.
The ABS is releasing more and more data via its TableBuilder product. ABS TableBuilder provides access to data for researchers who need customised information, but do not have the time or skills to write code and perform complex statistical analysis.
In an environment where highly technical skills are in short supply, the ABS is developing new ways of making its data useful. It has teamed up with Data61 to develop a confidential Application Programming Interface, which allows software developers to build tools that can be used by non-technical researchers to visualise and analyse data in new ways.
Consultation and trials
The ABS will continue to consult with stakeholders from government and academia, as well as community, consumer and privacy groups to ensure that the approaches it takes to data and access are in line with public expectations. For business data, the ABS is conducting a series of trials with selected academics to assess the feasibility of meeting stakeholder needs in new ways.
Using insights from these consultations and trials, the ABS will create new data products and tools to provide the statistical information that Australia needs.
Building ABS DataLab capacity
The ABS will seek to develop customised extracts of integrated data and make them accessible to authorised government and non-government researchers via the ABS DataLab. This approach will ensure that users only have access to the data they need for approved projects (a key privacy feature) whilst improving the usability and effectiveness of the ABS DataLab.
Continuing focus on secrecy, privacy and security
We are required to safeguard the secrecy of personal and business information as this is essential to ensure the ABS continues to receive accurate information from households and businesses, and can readily access sensitive government information for statistical purposes.
Just as new technologies pose risks to privacy, they can also provide new ways of ensuring privacy. The ABS will explore new methods for safeguarding the privacy and security of information. Controls will remain in place to ensure data is safe and is not misused.
The ABS recognises the value of working with data users across all sectors and providing data access to those not working in government. The high demand for data analysis will never be met by governments alone, so collaborative approaches will assist with developing richer and more extensive insights on matters of national importance.
The ABS will continue to explore new data access models to ensure its service offerings respond to the changing environment while meeting community expectations of being secure and cost effective.
With the exception of customised data products, the ABS provides all of its aggregated data for free on our website. We can also negotiate to waive costs for specialised data requests if they are in the public interest.
For users wishing to know more about data access at the ABS or discuss requests for access, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Download ABS Data Access Arrangements
ABS Data Access Arrangements December 2017.pdf