Report Finds Cybersecurity Issues with US 2020 Census

A report looking into the US 2020 Decennial Census has flagged concerns over cybersecurity and questioned whether the personal data collected during the study can be kept private. 

The US Census Bureau kicked off the 2020 Census count of the population with the enumeration of Alaska in January. However, a report into the ongoing operation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that the bureau faces "significant cybersecurity challenges in securing its systems and data."

Pressure to resolve these challenges is great, as the online launch of the census is just one month away. 

According to the GAO report, published on Wednesday, the 2020 Census was designated a high-risk operation in February 2017 and remains so to this day.

The report states: "Our prior and ongoing work has identified significant challenges that the Bureau faces in securing systems and data for the 2020 Census. Specifically, the Bureau continues to face challenges related to addressing cybersecurity weaknesses, tracking and resolving cybersecurity recommendations, and addressing numerous other cybersecurity concerns."

Over the past decade, the GAO has made 112 recommendations for the 2020 Census to help address a raft of concerns over IT system testing, recruiting census staff, securing partnerships, cybersecurity, safe data storage, and more, but many remain unaddressed. 

"As of February 2020, 28 of the recommendations have not been fully implemented of which six are designated priority recommendations," states the report.

Priority recommendations are defined as those that the GAO believes warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because, upon implementation, they may significantly improve government operations; for example, by saving money, eliminating fraud, or addressing a duplication issue.

The GAO found that a contingency plan developed in August 2019 for the bureau's internet response system had not yet been finalized. A further cybersecurity concern flagged in the report was the bureau's recent decision to change the primary system it intends to use to provide the internet response capability.

"Given that internet response for the 2020 Census starts in March 2020—approximately 1 month away—it is important that the Bureau expeditiously finalize and test the contingency plan for its internet response capability and ensure that the plan reflects the approach the Bureau has recently decided to implement," states the report.

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