Expanding the Role of Synthetic Data at the U.S. Census Bureau
17 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2014
Date Written: February 1, 2014
National Statistical offices (NSOs) create official statistics from data collected from survey respondents, government administrative records and other sources. The raw source data is usually considered to be confidential. In the case of the U.S. Census Bureau, confidentiality of survey and administrative records microdata is mandated by statute, and this mandate to protect confidentiality is often at odds with the needs of users to extract as much information from the data as possible. Traditional disclosure protection techniques result in official data products that do not fully utilize the information content of the underlying microdata. Typically, these products take the form of simple aggregate tabulations. In a few cases anonymized public-use micro samples are made available, but these face a growing risk of re-identification by the increasing amounts of information about individuals and firms available in the public domain. One approach for overcoming these risks is to release products based on synthetic data where values are simulated from statistical models designed to mimic the (joint) distributions of the underlying microdata. We discuss recent Census Bureau work to develop and deploy such products. We discuss the benefits and challenges involved with extending the scope of synthetic data products in official statistics.
Keywords: confidentiality, synthetic micro data, official statistics
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