EPIC to Court: Don’t Undermine 2020 Census Privacy Protections

April 26, 2021

EPIC has filed an amicus brief urging an Alabama federal court not to upend the Census Bureau's system for protecting personal data collected in the 2020 Census. Alabama is challenging the Bureau's use of differential privacy, in which controlled amounts of statistical noise are added to published census data to prevent individuals from being identified and linked with their census responses. The Bureau recently demonstrated that sophisticated reidentification "attacks" can identify tens of millions of people from published census data unless stronger privacy safeguards are used. As EPIC argues in its brief, "differential privacy is the only credible technique to protect against such attacks, including those that may be developed in the future." EPIC's brief explains that federal law imposes on the Bureau an "affirmative duty to protect the privacy of census respondents—not merely to avoid direct, unfiltered publication of census responses." EPIC also argues that differential privacy "is not the enemy of statistical accuracy," but rather "vital to securing robust public participation in Census Bureau surveys[.]" EPIC has long advocated for the confidentiality of personal data collected by the Census Bureau. In 2004, Bureau revised its "sensitive data" policy after an EPIC FOIA request revealed that the Department of Homeland Security had improperly acquired census data on Arab Americans from following 9/11. In 2018, EPIC filed suit to block the citizenship question from the 2020 Census, alleging that the Bureau failed to complete several privacy impact assessments required under the E-Government Act.

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