Evaluating Bias and Noise Induced by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Privacy Protection Methods


Christopher T. Kenny, Cory McCartan, Shiro Kuriwaki, Tyler Simko, and Kosuke Imai

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Christopher T. Kenny et al., Evaluating bias and noise induced by the U.S. Census Bureau’s privacy protection methods. Sci. Adv.10,eadl2524(2024).DOI:10.1126/sciadv.adl2524
The U.S. Census Bureau faces a difficult trade-off between the accuracy of Census statistics and the protection of individual information. We conduct an independent evaluation of bias and noise induced by the Bureau’s two main disclosure avoidance systems: the TopDown algorithm used for the 2020 Census and the swapping algorithm implemented for the three previous Censuses. Our evaluation leverages the Noisy Measurement File (NMF) as well as two independent runs of the TopDown algorithm applied to the 2010 decennial Census. We find that the NMF contains too much noise to be directly useful without measurement error modeling, especially for Hispanic and multiracial populations. TopDown’s postprocessing reduces the NMF noise and produces data whose accuracy is similar to that of swapping. While the estimated errors for both TopDown and swapping algorithms are generally no greater than other sources of Census error, they can be relatively substantial for geographies with small total populations.
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