Oct 03 2019

U.S. Census Bureau Fights Misinformation for the 2020 Count

The bureau is tapping tech to bolster data and information security for the decennial count.

The U.S. Census Bureau is continuing to take steps to secure the 2020 count from disinformation and ensure that the count can withstand potential disasters.

The bureau has also created a “fusion center” to monitor social media for misinformation during the count, according to Federal News Network

Atri Kalluri, senior advocate for decennial census response security and data integrity, recently stood up the fusion center, Enrique Lamas, COO for the bureau, tells the publication. The goal, he says, is to monitor “things that are being said that need further clarification from the Census Bureau.”

The bureau is working to counter rumors about the census to boost the response rate across the country. In September, the agency began promoting an email address where people can report “confusing” or “false information about the 2020 census.”

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Census Works to Keep 2020 Count Secure

The 2020 count will be the nation’s first census where households can respond over the phone or via the internet. Those who do not respond will be contacted via enumerators who will collect information via mobile devices.

The Department of Homeland Security has been working with the intelligence community and private-sector vendors on cybersecurity for the count. Earlier this year, the bureau conducted a “red team” test to hunt for vulnerabilities. A red team is an inside group that explicitly challenges an organization’s strategy or ideas and looks at them from the point of view of an adversary to find weaknesses and avoid mistakes.

In terms of internal threats, like attacks on the census’s self-response site or the enumerators’ mobile devices, the bureau has said that the data will be encrypted both in transit and at rest, according to FedScoop. Network activity will be heavily monitored and that the data will be collected and isolated from the internet. Enumerators’ devices will only contain data until it is transmitted to Census systems, and the data will in no way be retained.

According to Federal News Network, DHS, at a closed-door briefing earlier this year, “told congressional staff that the 2020 census will receive as much support from DHS as the 2020 election.”

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Census Bureau Ramps Up Disaster Resilience

The Census Bureau is also taking steps to enhance resilience for the count in case of disasters. The agency launched its Decennial Rapid Response Team after Hurricane Dorian hit Florida in September, and shut down two active area census offices, in Florida and Georgia, for several days, according to Federal News Network. 

Al Fontenot, the associate director for decennial census programs, tells the publication that canvassing staff continued operations in areas that were not evacuated, at the discretion of the “local management on the ground.”

“Our first is to ensure the safety of our staff, our equipment and our facilities. Our second goal is to ensure our ability to achieve our mission to complete the count as well as possible,” Fontenot says. The agency will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency when working in disaster zones. If a natural disaster should happen during the count, the agency could use administrative records to estimate the household count in an impacted area.

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