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Researchers object to census privacy measure

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Science  11 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 114
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6423.114

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  • RE: "Researchers object to census privacy measure,” Jeffrey Mervis Science 11 Jan 2019: Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 114 DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6423.114

    Re: "Researchers object to census privacy measure,”
    Jeffrey Mervis
    Science 11 Jan 2019:
    Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 114
    DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6423.114

    To the editor,

    The article "Researchers object to census privacy measure" incorrectly states that that the U.S. Census Bureau is not designing its systems to address the vulnerability of database reconstruction. (Science 11 Jan 2019, Vol 363, Issue 6423, pp. 114)

    It is true that when the U.S. Census Bureau published the 2010 Census data, we did not consider database reconstruction to be a credible threat to the confidentiality of the underlying database—and at the time, the threat was only theoretical. However, since 2010 there has been a dramatic increase in the availability of both large-scale computing resources and in commercial-strength optimizers that can solve systems of billions of simultaneous equations. Together, these have changed the threat of database reconstruction from a theoretical risk to an issue that the Census Bureau is legally required to address.

    The Census Bureau’s move to differential privacy for publishing the results of the 2020 Census, as detailed in Jeffrey Mervis’s article, is precisely how we are addressing the vulnerability posed by the threat of database reconstruction. We know of no other statistical technique that can be reliably employed to assure the confidentiality of the underlying data while simultaneously assuring t...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.