All 2020 Census Systems Go: How Smart Planning, Thorough Testing, and Backup Systems Will Deliver a Secure and Successful Count
WRITTEN BY: DR. STEVEN DILLINGHAM AND DR. RON JARMIN
The 2020 Census is important because responses help determine congressional representation for each state, and guide how billions of dollars in public, private, and not-for-profit resources are distributed across the country for the next 10 years. Those funds are used for critical services like emergency response, fire departments, schools, health care, and transportation.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s goal is a complete and accurate count of every person living in this country as of April 1, 2020. To do that, we have to reach everyone. In many ways, the 2020 Census will be our nation’s largest civic engagement effort ever.
Counting everyone in a country as vast and diverse as ours is complex—so we will offer many options. For the first time, you can choose to respond to the census online, over the phone, or on paper through the mail. If you do not respond in one of those ways, we’ll visit your residence to collect your information in person. We also undertake several operations designed for people living in special situations, such as villagers living in remote Alaska, people experiencing homelessness, communities recovering from natural disasters, and college dorm residents and others living in group quarters.
Our online response option is designed to make it easy for the public to securely respond to the 2020 Census. The ability to respond online anywhere is a tremendous help to those doing outreach to encourage a complete and accurate count.
We have worked hard to ensure our technology is safe, secure, and easy to use for everyone. To make sure our systems work for this extensive count, we took several steps.
- First, we extended the period in which people can self-respond. The online option to respond will open in mid-March and will remain open until we are done with our door-to-door follow-up operation in late summer. The same is true for our telephone response option. By not trying to capture a response from everyone in a single day, or even a single month, we make sure everyone has a better user experience and the ability to complete the census on their own time. We also stagger the mailing of our invitations to respond throughout the country to keep the user experience as smooth as possible on both options.
- Next, we made the Web site and the census itself easy to access. Our secure response Web site is accessible on any device, desktop, laptop, or mobile that currently functions on the Web. There is no app you need to download just to respond. Our site is Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. You can take the census online in 13 different languages, and we have developed video and/or print user guides in a total of 59 non-English languages as well as American Sign Language (ASL), Braille, and large print English.
- Finally, we have built a network of experts across the private and public sectors to help us secure the site and the important data you provide. We have adopted and built upon best practices in security. Your census responses are fully encrypted when entered, when transmitted, and when stored. Moreover, very strong federal privacy law backs up that security. We also use the latest fraud detection methods to make sure we stop illegitimate responses. This ranges from simple things like making sure we block foreign IP addresses to more complex and sensitive methods to stop bots from filling out fake census responses. We have 24/7 security experts, supported by industry and our federal partners, that test our systems, continuously scan for security and cyber threats, and monitor for misinformation and disinformation being spread online.
We also want to make sure we keep our site up and running if the unforeseen does happen. We developed and built two secure data collection systems. We designed them to be modular so that either system could fully substitute for the other. Both have been tested thoroughly for their capacity. We modeled how many people in America might access the online response site at any one time. Then we tested both systems to see if they could handle many multiples that level. Both systems successfully handled the predicted levels and well above. Accordingly, we will make use of both. Redundancy allows us to have a backup system should there be any reason to swap one of these systems out.
In addition to our two strong systems, we have the ability to quickly add capacity because we are cloud-capable. In the case of major outages, we have designed redundancies for our data operations and we have contingency plans in place that have been drilled over and over again.
Redundancy and resilience are central to all our operations.
The success of the 2020 Census depends on your trust in its safety and your understanding of its importance. Your participation is vital, which means your trust in us is vital. The 2020 Census is not just our mission; it is something that belongs to all of us.
Visit 2020census.gov to learn more about the 2020 Census – how to respond, and why it matters.