The Washington Post reports on a review at the U.S. Census Bureau that may affect the privacy of Census data.
The head of the Census Bureau said Friday he has ordered a review of the government’s efforts to protect the identity of individuals after researchers discovered months ago that years of publicly available data on the elderly contain numerous errors due to the government’s use of “masking” techniques.
Robert M. Groves, director of the bureau, said that the programming mistake responsible for the bad data had been corrected going forward, and that it would not affect the 2010 Census. Groves said he is considering a rerelease of the affected statistics, dating from 2000 to 2005. […]
Errors involving statistics on people 65 and older were found in data typically used by researchers in academia, government and marketing.
In a paper published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, three demographers said some of the census statistics could have been off by as much as 15 percent. In one example cited, the census had the national ratio of men to women implausibly increasing dramatically among people in their mid-60s. Census officials have already posted a warning on the data, cautioning researchers that the gender ratio is wrong.
The errors are the result of the extraordinary lengths the Census Bureau goes to maintain the confidentiality of people who fill out the forms. […]
“We have a very sacred burden to protect identities,” Groves said. “We have given our pledge that nothing we ever do could identify who a record belongs to. We know if we ever violate that pledge, the credibility of the census would be destroyed, and it would take decades to rebuild.”