In previous modern-day censuses, people could submit their responses by mail using a paper questionnaire or, if they failed to self-report, they could respond in-person to an enumerator. In 2020, the Census Bureau will encourage households to respond through an online portal. This new response method may raise citizen concerns about data privacy and confidentiality. The Census Bureau houses some of the most secure servers within the federal government and is working with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal cybersecurity experts to ensure that its systems are up-to-date with current threats. The 2020 Census will also allow people to provide their responses over the phone for the first time.
The census continues to reinvent itself to take advantage of new technologies with each passing decade, but the 2020 Census will feature significant technological advancements that local leaders should be aware of:
Most of the changes that will make the 2020 Census different from previous censuses are positive advancements. However, there are unmistakable challenges related to the current heightened climate of fear in many communities, ongoing misinformation campaigns and database hacking attempts — both domestic and foreign. Trust in government remains at a historic low, which compounds these challenges.
Census advocates will spend the next two years preparing to counter misinformation campaigns that are designed to suppress response rates, exacerbate undercounts of certain populations, weaken American democracy and generally disrupt institutional processes. As the level of government most trusted by the public, local leaders can serve as invaluable trusted voices and champions by using both the bully pulpit and city social media channels to instill confidence in the census process and counter false information.