Differential privacy in the 2020 US census: what will it do? Quantifying the accuracy/privacy tradeoff

Samantha Petti, Abraham Flaxman
2020 Gates Open Research  
The 2020 US Census will use a novel approach to disclosure avoidance to protect respondents' data, called TopDown. This TopDown algorithm was applied to the 2018 end-to-end (E2E) test of the decennial census. The computer code used for this test as well as accompanying exposition has recently been released publicly by the Census Bureau. Methods: We used the available code and data to better understand the error introduced by the E2E disclosure avoidance system when Census Bureau applied it to
more » ... 40 census data and we developed an empirical measure of privacy loss to compare the error and privacy of the new approach to that of a (non-differentially private) simple-random-sampling approach to protecting privacy. Results: We found that the empirical privacy loss of TopDown is substantially smaller than the theoretical guarantee for all privacy loss budgets we examined. When run on the 1940 census data, TopDown with a privacy budget of 1.0 was similar in error and privacy loss to that of a simple random sample of 50% of the US population. When run with a privacy budget of 4.0, it was similar in error and privacy loss of a 90% sample. Conclusions: This work fits into the beginning of a discussion on how to best balance privacy and accuracy in decennial census data collection, and there is a need for continued discussion.
doi:10.12688/gatesopenres.13089.2 fatcat:wfiv2p24pjdexcywisqzeo26pu