Jittering the Census Data ?

Trading Accuracy for Privacy in Census Data

As you know, many social disparities are identified, studied, and addressed  by analyzing census data.  However, in an effort to protect privacy, the Census Bureau plans to use new mathematical processes to alter 2020 census data.  The Census Bureau will not make precise alteration processes public but they are taking public comment on the issue.  Of great importance (beyond increasing knowledge of health disparities based on race, gender, age, and geography) is the effect it will have on redistricting and on equitable distribution of public funds. For an explanation of this process and its effects  on redistricting see 

Differential Privacy for Census Data Explained
The U.S. Census Bureau has had a longstanding requirement to ensure data from individuals and households remains confidential. For the 2020 census, it plans to use a new approach: “differential privacy.” This webpage provides background. the current status of decision-making for implementing differential privacy, questions data users may want to consider and more.

While differential privacy is intended to protect confidentiality for respondents, it has implications for smaller subpopulations. For instance, the National Congress of American Indians notes, “The implementation of differential privacy could introduce substantial amounts of noise into statistics for small populations living in remote areas, potentially diminishing the quality of statistics about tribal nations.”

For researchers and others wanting to learn more about how the Census Bureau will “jitter” the data, watch this 12 minute video.

Protecting Privacy with MATH (Collab with the Census) – This video was made in collaboration with the US Census Bureau and fact-checked by Census Bureau scientists.
What to Do!

Providing feedback

Those who are interested in how the bureau balances confidentiality and usability—or, in census parlance, how the “privacy loss budget” should be allocated—can provide comments to the bureau through its data demonstration project, dcmd.2010.demonstration.data.products@census.gov.

While there is no cutoff date for comments, a final decision will be made by fall 2020. Comments received in the spring will be easier for the bureau to incorporate.

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I am professor, emeritus, of nursing at Texas Woman's University, Denton, Texas

One thought on “Jittering the Census Data ?”

  1. tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

    Go here: https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news/cybersecurity-issues-with-us-2020/

    Not here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT19VwBAqKA#action=share

    Rant below:

    While I do agree with the conclusion that one ought to be weary of how the government might implement the 2020 Census, from a technological perspective, it is exactly that, a technological issue, not a mathematical one.

    When I first saw the video from the link above I honestly thought it was produced by a fringe wannabe expert on cyber-security. It wasn’t till’ I dived a bit deeper I realized that the video was claimed to be endorsed by the Census Bureau themselves, and the guy from the video was a former theoretical physicist. I was astounded. So I fact checked the references provided in the video description. Apparently the mumbo-jumbo math he used is indeed actual math found from the fringe corners of the social sciences to produce loosely based proofs. Proofs like the one seen in the video would never be seen in a traditional math setting. In fact, if you look up these terms on Wikipedia, you will find that this loosely structured math was ripped from an actually rigorous and well studied area of cryptography. However, the social science blatantly misuses it to “prove” their own agenda. Not going to lie, when absorbing this information it rings the bell of the misuse of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem. Digging even deeper, I have found that even the likes of Harvard and many prominent Census Bureau members themselves have been guilty of the same sort of fraud. For example, the man in the video recently updated his Youtube channel’s background to support the pro privacy movement. For the record, I am all for the pro privacy movement, however, neither did this man reveal his bias nor did he present a sound argument to support the cause.

    I will not dare cover the argument here as it is futile because it has no grounds in the cyber-security or pro privacy community. Below I will assume as fact the disconnect between academia and the government and the top talents in the field, for the sake of brevity. I will also touch on what historical events and current events that have led to this disconnect and briefly gloss over what each party is doing about it and why they are doing it.

    In my individual opinion, based upon personal experience and observation, academia and the government are in a losing battle to stay ahead of current cyber-security and computer science research. The reasons for this involve years of privacy intrusions and mistrust that have accrued in that field due to the likes of the behavior of the N.S.A., traditional academic institutions’ blatant disrespect for free learning resources, among many other ill conduct revealed throughout the years. If you would like to learn more about the history of the relationship between these institutions and the people who pioneered the computer landscape we live in today both on the software development and cyber-security front, I suggest one reads up on the likes of Edward Snowden, Aaron Schwartz, Linus Torvalds, the Phracking community, S.O.P.A. and P.I.P.A., Ajit Pai, and the A.N.T. program. The history regarding the above topics are fresh in the minds of most of the pioneers in the open internet and pro privacy campaign. Coincidentally, those same pioneers are very sparse to be found in a government or academic setting. The reasons are simple, both academia and the government have been historically anti privacy and anti free internet learning. The reasons are very simple, for the government, branches such as the F.B.I., C.I.A., N.S.A., have historically had long reigns of abusing power. For academia, these institutions rely on making money these days, long gone are the days where knowledge was gained through hard work and institutions cared about freedom of thought. Now it is a business, though part of the government by technicality, school’s fear loosing out on tuition money if free learning options are available. Therefore, historically, both have opposed pro privacy movements and have punished and censored heavily any attempt to make knowledge accessible before paying a large sum of money. The poster child of this behavior is the late Aaron Schwartz, I could not suggest enough reading up on him and how the supposed founder of internet freedom and the Phracking community (M.I.T.), along with the F.B.I., ultimately costed this young man his life. All because both parties were keeping public records behind a hefty subscription premium and Aaron tried to make this public knowledge.

    On a lighter note, the very same behavior that M.I.T. and the F.B.I. displayed towards Aaron, ended up costing both parties tremendously. After Aaron’s death, the Phracking community abandoned M.I.T. and top talent have since been attracted to industry positions versus government positions. Thus, recruiting and research found in both organizations have fallen stagnant. Meanwhile, industry has thrive. Many top keynote speakers and researchers can be found working in industry while contributing to open source knowledge on the side. These are often the people found in large hacking conventions such as Defcon and Black Hat. An academic and a government agent is sparsely found in these settings. As such, a playful remark is often made at such conferences as an icebreaker of ‘spot the fed’. This is the attitude displayed by people on the bleeding edge of technology and this is why academia and the government have fallen so far behind in this field. The best of the best simply refuse to work for either out of moral principle and as such, talent in these realms are in short supply. Both the government and academia are in damage control mode as of now. They realize it is a losing game, so only as of recently have they made steps torwards insincere reform. This is best exemplified by the N.S.A.’s transparency program and free online resources half-heartedly offered from top universities who have historically protected their learning material at all cost.

    No wonder the video above, Harvard, and the Census Bureau are all lackluster in regards to this topic, the very people pioneering the field has abandoned them, and for good reason too. This effect is only compounded by the lighting speed the field develops at. I’m not even going to cover the video or it’s references above. It would be a futile engagement. All I will say is that if you want to learn about Rome, go where the Romans go. If you want to learn about cyber-security, go where the cyber-security professionals go. It really is that simple. No need to waste a frivolous debate, There are already enough of those out there.

    Rant above:

    tl;dr (too long; didn’t read)

    Go here: https://www.infosecurity-magazine.com/news/cybersecurity-issues-with-us-2020/

    Not here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT19VwBAqKA#action=share

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