Census Cybersecurity Complexity

… the fact that Census data will be largely collected online for the first time in 2020 represents a huge and slow-moving target. And unlike next year’s presidential election, which has already been targeted by Iranian-linked groups, we’ll have to live with the results for the next decade.

“The Census is our nation’s largest peacetime operation. You don’t fool around with such a complex operation,” said Mary Jo Hoeksema, co-director for The Census Project, an advocacy group. “Cybersecurity is a big issue and we’re all on pins and needles on how this is going to roll out.”

… Agency officials like Stephen Buckner have been hustling to prepare for any attempted interference despite it all. The Department of Homeland Security is helping defend the portal where Americans can share data and computer systems where the government will store it. The Census Bureau has launched a new email hotline and website for hoaxes. And it’s broadcasting a singular message to every nonprofit group that will listen: If you see something, say something.

“With growing mistrust of government, our partners play an invaluable role to be that trusted voice in those local communities,” said Buckner, assistant communications director at the Census Bureau…

“The War Against the Census Is On — and Big Tech Is Trying to Avoid Another 2016.” By David Uberti. Vice. October 9, 2019. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qvge93/the-war-against-the-census-is-on-and-big-tech-is-trying-to-avoid-another-2016

Next Meeting of the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations (NAC)

The Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations (NAC) will be meeting on November 7 and 8, 2019. The NAC is supposed to address policy, research, and technical issues relating to Census Bureau programs and activities, including the decennial.

According to the agenda, the upcoming NAC meeting will discuss the 2020 Census, the partnership and communications programs, the integrated communications campaign, the plan for decennial products, and get an update on differential privacy and a variety of IT plans. If you can’t attend in person, it will be broadcast online live.

Senator Questions Homeland Security Department and Census Bureau About 2020 Census Cybersecurity

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) recently wrote to Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Christopher C. Krebs and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham to inquire “how the agencies are working together to ensure that personally identifiable information will be secured” in the 2020 Census. “It is critical that the information systems and networks that hold this data be continuously monitored for vulnerabilities, and that any discovered vulnerabilities be quickly remediated.”

Carper seeks to find out if “an outside auditor validated the sufficiency of the Census Bureau’s encryption strength?”

  1. “Are the responses from the 2020 Census going to be stored on a separate Census Bureau network dedicated solely to handling census data, or the Department of Commerce’s preexisting network?”
    • “Will the information be stored or reviewable by any other Agency?”
  2. “Aside from the two-factor authentication, will other security protections and tools be in place to protect the information and manage risks, and if so, what are those other security protections and tools?”
    • “What are CISA and the Bureau assessing the highest risks to be, and what is being done to mitigate those risks specifically?”
  3. “Will the information collected be stored in a segmented way to create boundaries in accessing the information already in the system?”
  4. “Please explain how the Census Bureau would be able to determine if data integrity was compromised and data was inappropriately manipulated – either during collection, or while in storage. What processes are in place to understand ‘ground truth’ and react swiftly and appropriately to any concerns identified?”

Carper also asked about DHS and Census Bureau response to the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recommendations in recent testimony.

  1. “Please describe what steps, if any, are being taken by DHS or the Bureau, to identify and combat potential social engineering efforts by malicious actors to obtain and exploit Americans’ personally identifiable information by fraudulently claiming to be associated with the Census.”
  2. “To what extent, if at all, are other Federal agencies such as the National Security Agency, U.S. Cyber Command, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, involved in working with DHS or the Bureau in addressing potential cyber threats, and what will that involvement be as the census begins in earnest in April 2020?”

Sen. Carper and his staff are seeking answers to all these tough census cybersecurity questions by the end of September.

Senators Urge Full-Year FY20 Census Funding in Continuing Resolution

With the start of peak 2020 Census nearly upon us, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) recently led an appeal from 25 Senators urging a direct full-year appropriation for the Census Bureau (at the stakeholder-requested level, including $7.5 billion for the 2020 Census) as part of the Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government.

The Census Bureau, said the Senators, must “have certainty of full funding, as well as flexibility, at the start of the fiscal year to ensure that its final preparations and operations for the decennial census are not negatively impacted.” Failure on that front could depress participation and increase “operational mistakes and failures in 2020, which then would increase census costs by billions of dollars as the census unfolds, diminish public confidence in the results, and put a fair and accurate 2020 Census in jeopardy.”

Without this “appropriate” up-front funding in FY20 will hurt a variety of efforts, such as: “recruiting, hiring, and training of field staff; verifying and updating the final address list; preparing and strengthening cybersecurity and other IT systems; completing robust advertising and messaging campaigns; and preparing for the launch of peak counting operations in remote areas of Alaska, which must start in January 2021. Each component of the decennial census is equally important and has been carefully planned out over the past decade.”

Read the Senators’ letter.

Senate CJS Subcommittee Mark Up for FY20

In keeping with our commitment to informing you about the Fiscal Year 2020 Commerce, Science, Justice (CJS) Appropriations bill, which funds the Census Bureau, we wanted to pass along an announcement.  On September 24, 9:00 a.m., the Senate CJS subcommittee will be considering (or marking up) its version of the FY 2020 CJS bill.  The full Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to consider the bill on Thursday, September 26. It is not clear if and when the bill will be considered on the floor of the United States Senate.

As a reminder, on July 24, the Census Project sent leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee a letter, signed by almost 200 organizations, urging support for funding the Census Bureau and 2020 Census. The letter is posted on the Census Project home page and may be shared broadly.

Census Bureau Launches 2020 Census Website

The U.S. Census Bureau recently unveiled a new version of the 2020 Census website. The site differs from previous iterations in that it includes new Statistics in Schools materials, information about the count of young children, revised facts about the 2020 Census, job application information, and other answers to frequently asked questions.


Another important feature is the “Fighting 2020 Census Rumors” page, which is intended to combat misinformation regarding the next decennial census. Further, the page promotes a new email, rumors@census.gov, where the public can report false information about the 2020 Census.

Senator Peters Urges Full Advance Funding for 2020 Census

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, says that he is “acutely aware that the Census Bureau requires robust, on-time funding to complete critical operations for the 2020 Census.” Yesterday, he wrote to Senate Appropriations leadership, urging them to “support the 2020 Census by ensuring the Census Bureau receives full funding for Decennial Census operations, at $7.5 billion, before the beginning of the Fiscal Year on October 1, 2019.”

The Senator’s request is in line with the recent funding requests from Census Project stakeholders and business leaders. The need for an anomaly for the 2020 Census is evident.

Read Sen. Peters’ letter.