Online census prompts security warning

Fill out your forms online but make sure your system is secure first

Statistics New Zealand will be providing tight security for the country’s first online census but warns that users will need to do their part if they want to ensure their data stays confidential.

“You will also need to have an up-to-date operating system, firewall, antivirus and anti-spyware on your computer to ensure the privacy of your census information,” Statistics warns in a bulletin to potential online clients.

The same collectors who deliver paper forms to every household will provide a household PIN in a separate envelope to those who want to complete their forms online. Census forms will be available online from today, the date that collectors start delivering paper forms and PINs.

The paper forms contain an “Internet ID” for the household. Both ID and PIN will be needed to log on to the site and provide census information online.

The “Internet ID” is an 11-character number. The PIN is a 12-character alphanumeric code.

It will be possible for some members of a household to complete a printed form and others to submit their data online, says Statistics NZ. Collectors will be notified when people have completed their forms online, so the collector knows how many paper forms to collect from each household. This procedure provides a guard against inadvertent duplication.

The data from online form submissions is decrypted once received from the application and held in a database within Statistics NZ’s secure environment, says spokesman Adam Kearney. It is then merged with the responses from the paper forms to form a single set of census data.

Responses to the paper form require some additional validation prior to processing, he says.

A dress rehearsal was held last year with a small sample of the population. No major adjustments were required to the system or procedures following the rehearsal, Kearney says.

The online version automatically moves the user past data they don’t have to fill in, based on previous answers. Trials indicate that each online form takes about ten minutes to fill in, with one form to be completed by each person and another for each household.

“The actual census questions and navigation remain the same as the dress rehearsal form. A number of smaller enhancements were included to improve usability and there were minor changes to meet e-government web [accessibility] guideline compliance,” Kearney says.

A specific version of the form was designed for use by blind or partially sighted respondents.

Some adjustments were also necessary to cater for the public’s use of “a wider variety of browsers and operating systems” than anticipated, Kearney says.

Incomplete forms shouldn’t be able to be sent and people who become confused should simply click begin again, says Statistics NZ.

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Tags firewallantispywareantivirus softwareonline census

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