WHO APPROVED THIS? The Australian Bureau of Statistics followed thousands of people's mobile phones for a few weeks back in 2016.
WHO APPROVED THIS? The Australian Bureau of Statistics followed thousands of people's mobile phones for a few weeks back in 2016. iStock

Dial back on data deceit

PARTS of the Australian government are using your data far more than Facebook could even dream of.

This week we learnt the Australian Bureau of Statistics followed thousands of people's mobile phones for a few weeks back in 2016.

People were tracked as they travelled around the ACT to give an insight into how people moved during the day. Telstra took the details and sold it to the ABS and all of this is legal.

A few weeks ago there was a huge debate about privacy when people took Facebook data without people's permission and sold it to Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Facebook officials were called before politicians to explain the situation and have promised to change the practice.

The change isn't selling people's data, just giving us more control over what they know and, at times, telling you the information is being used by someone else.

The data used by Telstra and the ABS is far worse than anything Facebook did because they turned people's phones into tracking devices without anyone's permission.

How can this be? Who approved of this and did a minister know about it?

I have no problem with using technology to get better information about how we use our cities, but we have to be asked first.

Thousands of people would gladly sign up to be tracked if they got free calls or extra data.

But we should all be very concerned when the phone company doesn't ask and the government is willing to pay to follow us.

Editor's note: The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released the following response.

Regarding the Paul Murray column syndicated across various News Corp newspapers from Saturday April 28, the ABS would like to clarify that we did not "follow" or "track" the mobile phones of Australians. The ABS has not tracked or conducted surveillance on any Australian.

The ABS received a batch of aggregated, anonymised data from a telecommunications company to inform estimates of temporary populations. The data was supplied in broad geographical areas, and the ABS operated in accordance with the Census and Statistics Act 1905, and the Privacy Act 1988. Under this legislation, the ABS is bound to maintain the secrecy of information collected and protect people's confidentiality.   

For more information, please refer to a statement on the ABS website


This weekend there's a music festival in Canberra and no doubt people will take drugs while they are there. The drugs are illegal and the event promoter openly tells people on their website not to do anything illegal while at the event.

But in an Australian first, people will be able to test the drugs they plan to take to make sure they are not poisoned.

Advocates say it's all about harm minimisation, but it's hard to not to see how this isn't tacit approval to break the law.

Ironically, if I wanted to light up a cigar at the event, it's banned. You can't consume a legal product yet you can test the illegal one before taking it.

The endless argument in favour of 'pill testing' is to make sure people don't die because of the drugs they plan to take, regardless of the law. But think about this, if someone tests the pill, but they have a bad reaction, who are they going to go after for compensation?

The logic of letting people break the law safely doesn't exist anywhere else.

We don't have roads where you can ignore the speed limit, why should we send any message that illegal drugs are fine?


I'm very pleased to announce we are bringing my show on Sky News Paul Murray LIVE to Rockhampton for this year's Beef Week.

We'll be on stage at 9pm on Wednesday, May 9, and I'm bringing my mates Ross Cameron and Rowan Dean with me.

If you'd like to join us, send me an email with ROCKHAMPTON in the subject to audience@skynews.com.au.