Special thanks to Tevin Hopkins for his contributions to this post.
Over the past several months, the 2020 Census has been a growing concern for many—from the Trump administration’s efforts to include a citizenship question to concerns that the process of counting every single person living in the country may not receive the proper funding it needs. However, there is another issue that should be just as alarming. Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau conducted an experiment with previously acquired census data to determine if the information people provide to the Bureau could threaten their privacy. The agency used this information, along with other publicly available records, and discovered that they were able to infer the identities of 52 million Americans. To try to combat this privacy issue, the Bureau is going to use a technique called “differential privacy,” which changes certain numbers in the statistics to protect identities, but retains the survey’s primary findings. How effective this strategy will be remains to be seen. If the results from the Census are too diluted, it can lead to issues with redistricting and the dilution of minority voting power, possibly violating the Voting Rights Act.
To most people, however, their primary concern will be with their own identity and who will be able to access it with the public information released by the 2020 Census. With people putting more and more of their information on the web via social media or signing up for various other online accounts, it only gets easier for cyber predators to combine all this information, learn identities and other personal information about people, and use it to their detriment.
While bypassing the 2020 Census may not be an option, there are a few simple steps you can take to protect your identity and it mainly has to do with your online profile. Keep your online accounts to a minimum, only sign up for accounts that you will actually use and be beneficial to you, never provide information that was solicited via a suspicious email or other suspicious websites, and keep close track of those online accounts that use or save your credit card information.