My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

1940 Census results released by the Census Bureau after 72 years: Genealogists and history buffs rejoice

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

The Census Bureau swears to protect its data for 72 years. As such, today, the Census Bureau is releasing the 1940 Census results for the first time. The Census Bureau has provided a fairly simple mechanism for sorting through the basic information, with some pretty cool data visualization. And sites like MyTwoCensus.com advertising partner Ancestry.com (with over 1 billion 1940 Census records available) will surely be able to provide more in-depth results for users. (CBS News has provided some suggestions on how search for specific 1940 Census records.)

However, this data release is not without controversy. As The Washington Post writes:

The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, has for more than 30 years opposed any unrestricted release of census records.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, said harm could come from combining the rich 1940 Census data with other information.

“Computer technology today allows you to take information from different sources and combine it into a very high-resolution image of somebody’s life,” he said. “Each particular piece of information might just be one pixel, but when brought together, they become very intrusive.”

A document obtained from the National Archives by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request shows that, in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau raised privacy concerns about the disclosure of the 1940 Census by the nation’s record-keeper.

Census Bureau spokesman Robert Bernstein said in an e-mail that any fears the data could be used to harm anyone living today “such as through identity theft” were alleviated when the National Archives said that no birthdates or Social Security numbers would be in the records. One 1940 Census question asked a sample group of more than 6 million people whether they had a Social Security number but did not ask for the number itself.

We’d love to hear any comments from amateur or professional genealogists or family tree-makers about how you feel the Census Bureau’s data has assisted you (or, on the contrary, any problems that you may have had while trying to access information).

Note to America: Your 2010 Census data is being handed over to private citizens

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The Census Bureau has long touted that it keeps data private and confidential for 70 years after it is gathered. This concept proved to be false as recently as 2004, when the Census Bureau didn’t put up a fight as it turned over information about Arab-Americans to other government agencies.

The Census Bureau also readily hands over data to research centers at universities, both public and private. This is a little-known program that has not been mentioned in the press. While I may personally agree that universities with data access can provide benefits for society, I stand against the Census Bureau handing over this data on the principle that  the American people have not agreed that the Census Bureau can use their data in this way.

Take a look at this recent Census Bureau press release that highlights the 10+ sites around the country where universities have access to your data:

The Center for Economic Studies at the U.S. Census Bureau, in
partnership with the University of Minnesota, has opened a new Research
Data Center (RDC) laboratory on the university’s campus in Minneapolis.

RDCs are Census Bureau facilities where researchers from academia,
federal agencies and other institutions with approved projects receive
restricted access to unpublished Census Bureau demographic and economic
microdata files. These secure facilities are staffed by Census Bureau
employees and meet stringent physical and computer security requirements
for access to confidential data.

“The Minnesota Research Data Center will serve researchers from a broad
range of academic disciplines, with particular strengths in demography and
public health,” said Census Bureau Director Robert Groves. “The Minnesota
RDC will contribute not only by providing researchers with assistance in
using the demographic, business and health data but also by developing
improved or new data collections.”

“The research lab is housed in the Minnesota Population Center (MPC),
which has a tradition of collaboration with the Census Bureau and other
statistical agencies. As a world leader in the improvement, dissemination
and analysis of census data, MPC is equipped to make unique contributions
to the RDC program,” Groves said.

Before gaining access to the information at RDCs, researchers must
submit proposals to the RDC and the Census Bureau for approval. The review
process ensures that proposed research is feasible, has scientific merit
and benefits Census Bureau programs. In addition, RDC operating procedures,
strict security and strong legal safeguards assure the confidentiality of
these data as required by law. Researchers, for instance, must pass a full
background investigation and are sworn for life to protect the
confidentiality of the data they access, with violations subject to
significant financial and legal penalties.

The Minnesota Census Research Data Center joins similar centers that
have been established in Boston; Berkeley, Calif.; Los Angeles; Washington;
Chicago; Ann Arbor, Mich.; New York; Ithaca, N.Y.; and Durham, N.C. The
center at Berkeley has a branch at Stanford University in Palo Alto,
Calif., while the center at Durham has recently opened a branch at Research
Triangle Park, N.C. An additional center is scheduled to open at a site in
Atlanta in spring 2011.

Monday Mailbag: Information over the phone legit?

Monday, June 21st, 2010

We got a lot of mail this weekend. I’m going to try to answer some of it here and post the rest of it for readers to comment on:

Subject: Falsifying data

Message Body:
I live in midtown Manhattan.
I got a flier on my door asking me to call the census office and give them my information over the phone.  Is that legal? The commericials all say a census taker will come to the door.

ANSWER (from a New York Census official): YES, WE CAN NOT GET INTO THE &$%$^# BUILDING. LET US INTO THE &^%#*@ BUILDING!

Anti-immigration group wants 2010 Census used to find illegal immigrants

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Thanks to Northwestern University’s Medill News Service for the following:
By Abby Sewell
Medill News Service

WASHINGTON — An anti-immigration group has launched a push for U.S. census data to be used to enforce immigration law.

The North Carolina-based group Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee called Monday for its supporters to flood congressional offices nationwide with calls to introduce legislation that would allow 2010 census data to be used to identify and deport illegal immigrants.

Immigration advocates and experts said the proposal would be unworkable and would run counter to the purpose of the census.

ALIPAC President William Gheen called his proposal a response to widespread efforts by the census to reach out to immigrant populations through measures such as Spanish-language ads.

“We can’t allow illegal aliens to steal taxpayer allocations and taxpayer representation by being counted on the census,” he said.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican who represents Frederick County, was among the congressional incumbents endorsed by ALIPAC in 2010. Bartlett’s spokeswoman, Lisa Wright, said to her knowledge no one had contacted the congressman’s office about the group’s proposal.

Census population figures are used, in part, to determine federal funding and congressional representation for each state.

Lisa Navarrete, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy organization, called ALIPAC an extremist group and equated taking their immigration policy proposals seriously with taking advice on affirmative action from a white supremacist group.

Gheen “is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” she said. “On the contrary, what the problem has been for years with the census is a significant undercount of Latinos.”

Census Bureau spokeswoman Samantha O’Neil had no specific comment on the ALIPAC proposal but said that the bureau is tasked with counting every resident, regardless of citizenship status. Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing personal information collected in the census with any other agency.

“We take our orders from the Constitution, and we’ve been doing it the same way since 1790,” O’Neil said.

The 2010 census did not include any questions about immigration status. ALIPAC is proposing that identifying information provided on census forms should be run against federal databases to flag potential illegal immigrants.

Audrey Singer, a senior fellow in the metropolitan policy program of the Brookings Institution, said it would be impossible to verify immigration status based on the information provided on the 2010 census.

“There’s no magical database out there that could accurately and reliably inform us about a person’s legal standing in the country,” she said. ” … On the accuracy of doing that, it would be a surefire failure, not to mention all of the legal and ethical consequences.”

Editorial: For most accurate 2010 Census, use as many nationalities as possible

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

After weeks of discussion that Caribbean Americans and the legislators who vouch for them are seeking to create a new “Caribbean” category on the 2010 Census form, another group has come out of the woodwork to seek space to display their own unique identity: Dominicans.

According to the Dominican Today newspaper, “Dominican residents in the United States launched a nationwide campaign to be included in the 2010 Census, under the auspices of the Dominican Round Table in
which several organizations, elected and government officials take part.

The campaign was announced in a gathering in the Bronx’s San Nicolas Tolentino church, in which City Council and State Assembly members spoke about the initiative.

The strategy seeks to prevent what took place in 2000, when Dominican residents in the U.S. were excluded from the boxes regarding ethnicity of that country’s census. If excluded, Dominican community organizations wouldn’t receive the funds necessary to sustain their social programs.

The campaign “One plus One” also includes Puerto Rico, where several hundred thousand Dominican nationals also reside and demands that the Federal Census Bureau include a box specifying the word “Dominican,” which didn’t figure in the previous census.”

MyTwoCensus wholeheartedly agrees that an “accurate” count means getting as much specific information as possible. We feel that the government should want to know the specific makeup of its people because this knowledge will serve many purposes down the road. For example, knowing the ethnic/national composition of people in a specific area would make it easier and more cost efficient to arrange social services and other benefits for more highly targeted groups of people.

And for the many Americans who identify with more than one ethnic background, people can check off a box for each nationality/ethnicity that represents them.

Since filling out the 2010 Census form is required by law, MyTwoCensus sees many benefits to making this portion of the survey more comprehensive.  We don’t believe that sharing additional background information infringes on any individuals’ right to privacy.

Though the 2010 Census is just around the corner, there is still time to improve the paper forms before they are printed. We urge Robert Groves and the U.S. Congress to prioritize this issue and not let petty political bickering stand in the way of taking action to create a form for the 2010 headcount that maximizes the amount of relevant information that it can gather in its 10 short questions.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 4)

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

On April 18, 2009, an under-reported yet monumental transaction took place between the Harris Corporation (the company responsible for creating the failing handheld computers used for 2010 Census operations) and Tyco Electronics (formerly part of the company with the same first name responsible for one of 2002′s most notorious financial scandals).

According to Data Week, “Tyco Electronics has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its wireless systems business to Harris Corporation for $675 million in cash, subject to final working capital adjustments. Tyco’s wireless systems business generated sales of $461 million in fiscal 2008. The transaction is subject to customary regulatory approvals and is expected to close toward the end of 2009.”

MyTwoCensus is concerned because it is unclear at this point is whether 2010 Census data can be accessed by these companies. It is unknown whether meta-crawlers (excuse the Google jargon) have been installed in the handheld devices created by Harris that could potentially share private and proprietary data with these corporations.

Here’s the official description of Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems:

“Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems is a leading supplier of critical communications systems and equipment for public safety, utility, federal, transportation and select commercial markets. Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems products range from some of the most advanced IP-based voice and data networks to traditional wireless systems that offer customers the highest levels of reliability, interoperability, scalability and security. More information about Tyco Electronics Wireless Systems solutions can be found on the Web at www.tewireless.com.”

With IP technology in the hands of Tyco, is your personal data safe?

Given that Tyco Electronics is based in Bermuda, a tax haven known for its lack of regulation, this acquisition could surely spell significant amounts of more trouble for investors, the SEC, and the Commerce Department if Tyco’s assets turn out to be less than stellar.

On a sidenote, it is clear that from a financial perspective, Harris is not performing well for its shareholders. However, it’s interesting to note how long the Harris Corporation’s stock rose until its peak of more than $65 a share on March 30, 2008, long after other companies had already started losing significant amounts of money. But today, the company’s value has been cut in half.

MyTwoCensus urges financial and security experts to share their opinions with us.

Investigative Series: Spotlight on Harris Corp. (Part 3)

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Here is a first-person account (written by a highly qualified Census Bureau employee who has requested anonymity) submitted to us about the Harris Corp’s handheld computers that have been used in the field by the Census Bureau’s address canvassers during the first stage of 2010 Census operations:

I’d say the biggest bug in the handhelds was due to the government trying to assure privacy. They had the handhelds set up to hide information from us after we entered it. So after declaring a street or an area “done,” the computer hid that information so we couldn’t go back to check, or to compare or verify our work. (So, we learned to avoid marking things “done” until we were absolutely sure we wouldn’t need to check back.)

The handhelds provided an advantage, in that they served to level the information-recording playing field amongst the canvassers. When the GPS was working (which was 99% of the time for me, the only time I had a bad signal was in a very wooded area), it made it quite easy to “map-spot” all the residences, and those spots will be used by USPS workers when delivering the census. Remember that in addition to the easy, obvious residences, there are plenty of residences that aren’t so evident. Cabins at the end of dirt roads, where people live there but have no mailboxes in favor of a PO Box. Trailers parked in driveways with separate families renting space. Rental apartments in the back-rooms of businesses or the basements of libraries. Our handhelds let us map all those places, and made it possible for everyone’s map-spotting to be equivalent. If we had been doing pencil-and-paper mapping, each canvasser’s information would have been different, because each would just be guessing where on the map each house was. Since we all had the same GPS technology, we’re guaranteed to be mapping residences at the same quality level. Also, by using the GPS/handheld technology, we probably cut our work time down by 3/4.

So I definitely think adding the handhelds was a good idea, it’s just too bad they implemented it poorly via a custom-contractor.