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Census Overhaul Seeks to Avoid Outing Individual Respondent Data


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Row houses in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Census Bureau is overhauling its systems after it learned anyone with sophisticated data tools could use published results to identify millions of individual census respondents.

Credit: Al Drago/Bloomberg News

U.S. Census Bureau officials said the agency is revamping its systems to prevent anyone from using published data to target individual respondents through the information they disclose to the census.

The bureau aims to use a mathematical process, called differential privacy, to modify census results sufficiently to reliably conceal respondents' identity.

The agency will make small additions to and subtractions from each number, prior to almost every table's publication, and significantly cut the number of published statistics.

Although data users are concerned these changes will disrupt their use of census data, not addressing the danger could allow information on individuals to be exposed, violating federal privacy law and elevating the risk of identity theft and other kinds of misuse.

From The Wall Street Journal
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