Come to Your Census

A lot can change in ten years. The last time a US census was taken, it was 2010 and the population of the United States was 308,745,538. Since then, the population has grown to at least 325 million people. And even in 2010, the census data were collected using paper questionnaires. But starting with the 2020 census, this will soon be obsolete. The Census Bureau has been hard at work developing plans for the first digital census, involving brand new technology and online census forms. There will still be the option of taking the survey on paper, but the hope is that having different options will allow more people to access the forms and decrease the cost of taking a comprehensive census.  But with this newfound convenience, there is also a new set of security risks. 

First, a little background on the census process. The main function of the census is to determine the number of seats each state is allotted in the House of Representatives. However, the implications reach far beyond this task. It can also be used to determine how much funding to distribute to various areas for public services. The census also collects demographic data such as statistics on age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. All citizens, even those who are undocumented, are required by law to respond to the census. Generally, the country is broken up into blocks, or geographic regions, typically divided by physical barriers such as roads or bodies of water.

One of the new tools introduced is called BARCA (Block Assessment, Research, and Classification Application). BARCA collects satellite & aerial images to see how each block has changed to help bureau employees build address lists. This new technology is vital because it reduces the need for block data to be gathered on foot, a lengthy process.

Another tool is called ROAM (Response Outreach Area Mapper), which analyzes historical data to predict which blocks will have the lowest response rates. This allows the bureau to develop methods to spread the word in these low-response areas, with the hope of increasing response volume.

Perhaps the most exciting new development is the creation of an app known as ECaSE, which stands for Enterprise Censuses and Surveys Enabling. This innovative tool was invented to simplify the process of following up with citizens who did not respond to the other attempts to collect data. ECaSE will individualize a worker’s canvassing route, taking into account factors such as work availability, most effective times of day to visit a home, and any non-English languages the worker speaks. Not only that, but the app will collect the demographic data required for the census, encrypt it and securely send it to the Census Bureau’s central database. This will greatly increase the efficiency of each worker as they make their visits.

These new pieces of technology will ideally simplify the tedious process of taking a census. However, when introducing a digital aspect, there are certain caveats to consider. The database could be hacked, exposing personal information about millions of people. Or, if the online questionnaire is completed on an unsecured device, the data may be compromised on its way to the Census Bureau. The bureau is adamant that it has taken precautions against the misuse of data, but only time will tell if these precautions are sufficient.

At Extract, we take data security seriously and would love to talk to you about any data privacy concerns your organization is facing. Reach out to us today.

About the Author: Claire Means

Claire is a Database Development Specialist at Extract Systems. She started at the company as a document verifier, which gives her a unique understanding of the redaction software. Her attention to detail and high rate of accuracy prove her dedication to Extract’s success. Claire holds a certificate in Web Design from Madison College and her special interests include web analytics and search engine optimization.