Citizenship Suit Heads to Judge for Decision

An article appearing in the Sunday edition of The New York Times Magazine details the just concluded trial in federal district court challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to include a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form.

Meanwhile, a Reuters story outlines attempts by Democratic Congressional leadership to insert a ban on adding the citizenship question in the next decennial census as part of the final federal budget “deal” this year.

Census Budget Heads for December 7 Showdown

A letter to Congressional appropriators, organized by the Census Project and co-signed by more than 190 organizations, urged Congress to quickly pass a FY 2019 budget for the Census Bureau of at least $4.4 billion.

“Ever since Congress directed the Bureau to mount an aggressive paid outreach and advertising program after the disappointing 1990 Census, never has the need for these efforts been greater if we are to win full public cooperation with the 2020 count. We are nearing the 11th hour in preparations and any disruption to funding will put at risk a full and fair count that is vital for the next decade to secure the continuation of fair political representation for our democracy and the just allocation of federal tax dollars to states and localities,” said Mary Jo Hoeksema, co-director of the Census Project.

In a separate letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, the Census Project said, “given the uncertainty surrounding the final FY 2019 CJS deliberations, and the delicate, consequential state of Census 2020 preparations, we encourage you to exercise your authority and ensure uninterrupted funding for the Census Bureau if a partial government shutdown occurs. Census Data are vital to America’s economy and local planning, as well as countless investment decisions made every day. Ensuring the timely delivery of the 2020 data should be a national priority.”

Insights Association – Update on Census 2020 Spending Battle

This blog was originally posted by the Insights Association on November 16.


By Howard Fienberg, VP, Advocacy, The Insights Association and Co-director, The Census Project

The possibility of a federal government shutdown looms if Congress and the President fail to agree on funding for a number of federal agencies for Fiscal Year 2019, including the Census Bureau. Even a brief shutdown could jeopardize the 2020 Census.

While both House and Senate Appropriations Committees have passed their respective CJS Appropriations bills funding the Census Bureau, neither side of Congress has passed the legislation, and the two versions are a billion dollars apart in their Census funding levels overall.

As explained by the co-directors of the Census Project coalition, “Census 2020 operations are at a critical juncture. The Census Bureau is perfecting IT systems and other innovations tested during the 2018 End-to-End Readiness Test. The agency is also pursuing final design decisions and preparations for the 2020 Census, which will be the nation’s first digital decennial census. FY 2019 is the Bureau’s last opportunity to ensure the next decennial is accomplished inclusively, cost effectively, and successfully and to prepare for unique cybersecurity threats and self-response challenges confronting the 2020 Census.”

In a letter to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the co-directors encouraged Mulvaney, “given the uncertainty surrounding the final FY 2019 CJS deliberations, and the delicate, consequential state of Census 2020 preparations,” to exercise his “authority and ensure uninterrupted funding for the Census Bureau if a partial government shutdown occurs. Census Data are vital to America’s economy and local planning, as well as countless investment decisions made every day. Ensuring the timely delivery of the 2020 data should be a national priority.”

The Insights Association is echoing these concerns with Members of Congress and the White House.

National League of Cities Issues Municipal Action Guide for 2020 Census

The National League of Cities has issued a municipal action guide for city leaders. The guide contains useful background information on the importance of the 2020 Census to local communities as well as tips for helping the Census Bureau complete an accurate count in every neighborhood.

Annotated Guide to The Amicus Briefs in the NY Citizenship Cases

Today the trial will begin in New York City in the first of six cases challenging the Commerce Department’s controversial decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census.

The Brennan Center for Justice has compiled a summary of nearly a dozen friend-of-the court briefs from a wide array of civil rights groups, former government officials, businesses, social-science experts, and others. The annotated guide summarizes each brief’s most prominent or unique points.

Census Bureau Blog-Protecting The Statistics

This blog was originally posted by the United States Census Bureau on August 17.


By Dr. John M. Abowd, Chief Scientist and Associated Director for Research and Methodology

The U.S. Census Bureau’s commitment to data stewardship—protecting respondent privacy and confidentiality at every stage of the data lifecyle—is grounded in law that is straightforward, robust, and strong. From the time we collect the data, through processing, publication and storage, we are bound by Title 13 of the United States Code to ensure that information about any specific individual, household, or business is never revealed, even indirectly through our published statistics.

We call the steps we take to prevent any outside entity from identifying individuals or businesses in the statistics we publish “disclosure avoidance.” This is the first of two Research Matters Blogs where I discuss the ongoing work at the Census Bureau to modernize how we protect respondent confidentiality when we publish statistics on the U.S. population and economy.

Throughout our history, we have been leaders in statistical data protection, which we call disclosure avoidance. Other statistical agencies use the terms “disclosure limitation” and “disclosure control.” These terms are all synonymous. Disclosure avoidance methods have evolved since the censuses of the early 1800s, when the only protection used was simply removing names. Executive orders, and a series of laws modified the legal basis for these protections, which were finally codified in the 1954 Census Act (13 U.S.C. Sections 8(b) and 9). We have continually added better and stronger protections to keep the data we publish anonymous and underlying records confidential.

However, historical methods cannot completely defend against the threats posed by today’s technology. Growth in computing power, advances in mathematics, and easy access to large, public databases pose a significant threat to confidentiality. These forces have made it possible for sophisticated users to ferret out common data points between databases using only our published statistics. If left unchecked, those users might be able to stitch together these common threads to identify the people or businesses behind the statistics as was done in the case of the Netflix Challenge. 1

The Census Bureau has been addressing these issues from every feasible angle and changing rapidly with the times to ensure that we protect the data our census and survey respondents provide us. We are doing this by moving to a new, advanced, and far more powerful confidentiality protection system, which uses a rigorous mathematical process that protects respondents’ information and identity in all of our publications.

The new tool is based on the concept known in scientific and academic circles as “differential privacy.” It is also called “formal privacy” because it provides provable mathematical guarantees, similar to those found in modern cryptography, about the confidentiality protections that can be independently verified without compromising the underlying protections.

“Differential privacy” is based on the cryptographic principle that an attacker should not be able to learn any more about you from the statistics we publish using your data than from statistics that did not use your data. After tabulating the data, we apply carefully constructed algorithms to modify the statistics in a way that protects individuals while continuing to yield accurate results. We assume that everyone’s data are vulnerable and provide the same strong, state-of-the-art protection to every record in our database.

The Census Bureau did not invent the science behind differential privacy. 2 However, we were the first organization anywhere to use it when we incorporated differential privacy into the OnTheMap application in 2008. It was used in this event to protect block-level residential population data. 3 Recently, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Uber have all followed the Census Bureau’s lead, adopting differentially privacy systems as the standard for protecting user data confidentiality inside their browsers (Chrome), products (iPhones), operating systems (Windows 10), and apps (Uber).

Expanding these hardened and tested confidentiality protections to our flagship products, beginning with the 2020 Census, is a complicated task that the Bureau has taken years to meticulously plan and implement. Nothing on this scope and scale has ever been done before by a statistical agency or a private business.

The first Census Bureau product that will use the new system will be prototype redistricting data from the 2018 Census Test. This confidentiality protection system will provide the foundation for safeguarding all the data of the 2020 Census. It will then be adapted to protect publications from the American Community Survey, economic censuses, and eventually all of our statistical releases.

Narayanan, Arvind and Vitaly Shmatikov. 2008. “Robust De-anonymization of Large Sparse Datasets,” SP’08, pp. 111-124. Washington, DC, USA:IEEE Computer Society, DOI:10.1109/SP.2008.33.

2. Dwork, Cynthia, Frank McSherry, Kobbi Nissim, and Adam Smith. 2006. “Calibrating Noise to Sensitivity in Private Data Analysis,” TCC’06, pp. 265-284. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, DOI: 10.1007/11681878_14.

3. Machanavajjhala, Ashwin, Daniel Kifer, John Abowd, Johannes Gehrke, and Lars Vilhuber. 2008. Privacy: Theory meets Practice on the Map. In Proceedings of the 2008 IEEE 24th International Conference on Data Engineering (ICDE ’08). IEEE Computer Society, Washington, DC, USA, 277-286. DOI: 10.1109/ICDE.2008.4497436.

Complete Count Efforts Underway in Some States and Communities

Across the country some states and communities are gearing up to encourage their local populations to participate in the 2020 Census count with local dollars behind the effort. But the effort, so far, is spotty.

Stateline traces national activity and noted the state of California has already funded tens of millions of dollars for its own in-state outreach.  Another article, published by Reuters, adds additional detail to these efforts.

Meanwhile, in Houston, similar outreach is already underway.

These efforts will be important since both political representation and billions of federal dollars for such things as Medicaid, highways and roads, school lunch programs, housing assistance and Head Start are guided by census numbers.

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