Panel Abstract

Public attitudes towards data governance in Australia

We are living in the Data Age. Never before have more data been held about us by government or companies that we interact with, and never before have those data been so used, or so useful for analytical purposes.

This Data Age presents enormous opportunities for improving the evidence base for public policy development; for assessing policy alternatives; and for evaluating the targeting, delivery and outcomes of government services. Data therefore have enormous economic and political value, creating incentives to intentionally or unintentionally misuse the data. These risks need to be traded off against the potential benefits.

The development of legislation, and the regulatory and oversight framework governing the use of these personal data is a challenge, as is the development of the data infrastructure, policies and practices within any framework that is set. An important consideration with regard to data governance is community attitudes, and ensuring that government and commercial entities do not get too far ahead of (or lag) community attitudes.

The 27th ANUPoll (conducted in late 2018) asked a representative sample of Australian residents a range of questions about their views and attitudes towards data governance. This paper is based upon the ANU Poll data. The paper uses a combination of descriptive statistics and regression analysis.

The results of the public opinion survey presented in this paper show that Australians are generally supportive of data being made available to researchers (especially those in universities) and being used within government. These findings are consistent with research from other countries. There was much less support for multiple sources of data to be linked. This demonstrates a need to more carefully explain how such data linkage can have benefits for individuals, to set up proper safeguards for such linkage, and to not move too far ahead of public opinion.

Although the level of support for government to use and share data is generally high, there is much less support for the propositions that the Australian Government has the right safeguards in place or can be trusted with people’s data. Having said that, government in general and the ABS in particular are much more trusted than commercial entities; levels of trust in social media companies are particularly low.

If government, researchers and private companies want to make use of the richness of new types and sources of data, there is an urgent and continuing need to build up trust across the population, and to put policies in place that reassure consumers and users of government services that data can be stored and managed with appropriate security and access safeguards in place.