In DepthSocial Science

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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The U.S. Census Bureau is making a sea change in how it safeguards the confidentiality of the vast amount of data released from the decennial census—a move that is making waves among social scientists. In September 2018, the bureau announced it will apply a mathematical concept called differential privacy to the 2020 census data. The decision addresses a serious weakness in current practices to ensure that the data cannot be linked to individuals, they say, a concern made more urgent in light of plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. To critics, however, the agency is trying to fix a system that isn't broken. They fear the implementation of differential privacy will degrade the quality of information used by thousands of researchers, businesses, and government agencies, and also make the data less accessible.