Making sense of census data
Erica Groshen, senior economics adviser at the ILR School and former commissioner of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, served as co-editor of a special issue of the Harvard Data Science ReviewDifferential Privacy for the 2020 US Census: Can We Make Data Both Private and Useful?
The problem serves as an entry point to help data scientists of all disciplines adapt to recent changes enacted by the US Census Bureau as it releases most of its detailed population counts with formal protections from private life. It aims to help document, contextualize, and evaluate the agency’s adoption of differential privacy and the debates surrounding this decision.
In the issue’s introductory essay, Groshen and co-authors Rubin Gong and Salil Vadhan explain that the census underlies many of the key decisions made by a range of entities from government to private business. In addition, a number of active and influential research communities depend on the data produced by the census. At the same time, privacy protection is required by law, but is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.
Accordingly, the US Census Bureau has developed a formal privacy protection system. In his contribution to the issue, Disclosure Avoidance and the 2020 Census: What Do Researcher Need to Know?, Groshen and co-author Daniel Goroff highlight “both what is new and what seems new but has actually changed little “. They also “examine the strategies, trade-offs and rationales associated with the processing and publication of the ten-year results”.
The issue is available online.