sunny.png
Saturday September 25th, 2021 4:45PM

Census releases guidelines for controversial privacy tool

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Hold onto your calculators, statisticians!

After three years of fierce debates, conflicting academic papers and a lawsuit, the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday announced guidelines for how a controversial statistical method will be applied to the numbers used for drawing congressional and legislative districts. The method is meant to protect the privacy of people who participated in the 2020 census, though critics have claimed it favors confidentiality at the expense of accurate numbers.

The privacy method adds controlled “noise,” or intentional errors, to the data to obscure the identity of any given participant in the 2020 census while still providing statistically valid information. The final guidelines announced by the Census Bureau weigh more in favor of accuracy than privacy compared to past test versions released by the statistical agency that interested parties have been evaluating.

The debate over the method known as differential privacy has resulted in a nerd knife-fight of sorts among statisticians, demographers and the redistricting experts who argued over whether its application would make unusable the numbers used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts. Release of the specific guidelines could further intensify the ongoing debate about the accuracy of numbers gathered during a national headcount that took place in the midst of a global pandemic and an already supercharged political climate.

If you picture the privacy tool as a dial with lower settings offering the most privacy and higher settings providing the most accuracy, the Census Bureau dialed up the accuracy in the final guidelines. The statistical term for this dial is “epsilon," and the bureau settled on an epsilon of 19.61, significantly higher than where the dial was set in earlier versions that critics raised concerns about.

“The decisions strike the best balance between the need to release detailed, usable statistics from the 2020 Census with our statutory responsibility to protect the privacy of individuals’ data,” said Ron Jarmin, acting director of the Census Bureau. “They were made after many years of research and candid feedback from data users and outside experts -– whom we thank for their invaluable input.”

University of Minnesota demographer Steven Ruggles, who had raised accuracy concerns about earlier versions, said Wednesday that the epsilon in the final guidelines is now so high it won't offer much privacy protection.

“The inventors of differential privacy regard such a high epsilon as pointless," Ruggles said.

The state of Alabama sued in an effort to stop differential privacy from being used at all on the redistricting data, claiming it would produce inaccurate numbers, and a panel of three judges could make a decision any day.

The Census Bureau says more privacy protections are needed than in past decades, as technological innovations magnify the threat of people being identified through their census answers, which are confidential by law. Computing power is now so vast that it can easily crunch third-party data sets that combine personal information from credit ratings and social media companies, purchasing records, voting patterns and public documents, among other things.

“It will be less bad, but I think it will still unsettle the ground,” Andrew Beveridge, a sociology professor at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, said of the higher epsilon value. “They are apparently married to it until the court says, “Don’t!”

Earlier this year, two civil rights group raised concerns that differential privacy could hamper voting rights enforcement and make it harder for the creation of districts where racial or ethnic minorities are the majority. While the greater accuracy outlined by the Census Bureau “is great," it still can't overcome small shifts at the margins that determine whether a district becomes majority-minority or doesn't, said Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the civil rights groups.

Furthermore, any decision over whether privacy should take priority over voting rights enforcement is one that should be made by Congress, not just the Census Bureau, Saenz said.

The redistricting data is expected to be released in mid-August. In September, the Census Bureau will release test data from the 2010 census with differential privacy applied using the final guidelines so researchers can examine how accurate it is.

Princeton University researchers Ari Goldbloom-Helzner and Sam Wang on Wednesday said in an email that the Census Bureau was being responsive to concerns raised and targeting accuracy in smaller jurisdictions. Studying an earlier version with greater privacy restrictions, the two researchers had previously said applying differential privacy had no practical impact on redistricting data.

“At this point my team is confident that the data will be fully fit for redistricting," Wang said.

___

Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

  • Associated Categories: U.S. News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, Top U.S. News short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Business, AP Business - Corporate News
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Census releases guidelines for controversial privacy tool
Hold onto your calculators, statisticians
11:48AM ( 5 minutes ago )
Russia expected to outlaw opposition leader Navalny's groups
A court is expected to outlaw the organizations founded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
11:48AM ( 6 minutes ago )
‘In the Heights’ lifts hopes for a Latino film breakthrough
The hype for “In the Heights” has brought great expectation to the Latino community in the United States, which has been historically underrepresented or stereotyped on the screen
11:38AM ( 15 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
FBI: Perceived grievances drove Virginia Beach mass shooter
The FBI says a city engineer who fatally shot 12 people in a Virginia Beach municipal building in 2019 was motivated by "perceived workplace grievances” that “he fixated on for years.”
10:57AM ( 56 minutes ago )
Cicadas foil timely takeoff of press plane for Biden UK trip
Reporters traveling to the United Kingdom ahead of President Joe Biden’s first overseas trip were delayed seven hours after their chartered plane was overrun by cicadas
10:21AM ( 1 hour ago )
Cicadas delay White House press ahead of Biden overseas trip
Reporters traveling to the United Kingdom ahead of President Joe Biden’s first overseas trip were delayed seven hours after their chartered plane was overrun by cicadas
10:12AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
The Latest: France reopens border, indoor restaurants, cafes
France’s government spokesman says the coronavirus situation in France “clearly improved” as the country reopened indoor spaces in restaurants and cafes as well as gyms and swimming pools
11:00AM ( 53 minutes ago )
France is back: Borders reopen to American tourists, others
France is back in business as a tourist destination after opening its borders Wednesday to foreign visitors who are inoculated against the coronavirus with vaccines approved by the European Union’s medicines agency
10:52AM ( 1 hour ago )
US stock indexes are mixed, while 'meme' stocks swing again
Stocks were mixed Wednesday, as modest gains from big technology companies offset declines in banks and other parts of the market
10:24AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP Business
The Latest: France welcomes tourists with EU-approved shots
France is back in business as a tourist destination after opening its borders Wednesday to foreign visitors who are inoculated against the coronavirus with vaccines approved by European Union regulators
6:52AM ( 5 hours ago )
Asian shares mixed as China reports jump in inflation
Asian shares are mixed after China reported a big jump in factory gate prices at a time when inflation is a top investor concern
2:21AM ( 9 hours ago )
Global sting began by creating message service for crooks
Criminal gangs that used a secure-messaging app called ANOM unwittingly allowed the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to eavesdrop on their conversations
11:26PM ( 12 hours ago )
AP Business - Corporate News
Russia expected to outlaw opposition leader Navalny's groups
A court is expected to outlaw the organizations founded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny
11:48AM ( 6 minutes ago )
No Cheers: Tokyo Olympic Village considering ban on alcohol
The Olympic Village has traditionally been a fun place to be with thousands of athletes and staff
11:27AM ( 26 minutes ago )
WTO to intensify talks on easing access to COVID-19 vaccines
World Trade Organization member nations have agreed to intensify talks toward geared at improving access to COVID-19 products
11:20AM ( 34 minutes ago )
The Latest: Schwartzman ends Nadal's 36-set winning streak
Diego Schwartzman has put an end to Rafael Nadal’s 36-set winning streak at Roland Garros
11:19AM ( 35 minutes ago )
US drops Trump order targeting TikTok, plans its own review
The White House dropped Trump-era executive orders that attempted to ban the popular apps TikTok and WeChat and will conduct its own review aimed at identifying national security risks with software applications tied to China
11:04AM ( 49 minutes ago )