For a year we have been warning that centres using CLASS would need to provide unit-level data to the Commonwealth in September 2023 (National Legal Assistance Partnership [NLAP] Agreement Schedule D). The date for this provision is fast approaching and we have just received advice from the Commonwealth on the scope of this exercise.
We will only provide your unit-level data to the Commonwealth (or more precisely, to the Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] acting as the Commonwealth’s agent) with the express permission of your centre’s Principal Solicitor. In order to approve data extracts, Principal Solicitors will need to be confident the data does not identify any client. Principal Solicitors will need to allocate time to assessing the data for their centre. We recently ran a pilot unit-level data exercise to test the impact of this data requirement on centres, and based on this we calculate that it will take Principal Solicitors between a couple of hours and half a day to complete their checks. You will need to do this between 11 and 22 September.
Next month you will receive an encrypted file with instructions on how to unencrypt it. We’ll be applying security measures to ensure only you are able to access the file. The data included in the file will already be significantly deidentified. It will not include names. It will include age ranges for each client rather than birth dates. Addresses won’t be included, instead location data will be recorded at SA2-level. Specific disabilities won’t be listed, just yes/no. Information about a client’s language background will just note if a language other than English is spoken at home, rather than the specific language. Despite these measures, Principal Solicitors will still need to check the data to make sure that no clients can possibly be identified. There will be capacity to delete client records where you have concerns.
To support you, we will:
- Provide information on our de-identification process (our Deidentification Guidelines)
- Run a webinar with a Q&A session, on 7 September, 11:30-12:30 AEST –Principal Solicitors will be invited to a Teams meeting
- Provide guidance for centres on the process by which they can assess files
- At the time we send you your encrypted file, provide you with details of the person within our team assigned to your centre plus the opportunity to book time with this person
We’re also liaising with the ABS to see if they can provide a training session for the sector.
We’ve long complained that this unit-level data exercise will be a demanding process without a clear aim. But now we have to get on with it. The Commonwealth has shown some flexibility around scope, and it may be possible to extract further changes next time around. For now, we’re committed to supporting you as best we can to meet this NLAP requirement.
Note that the ABS will only publish data in aggregate form.