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Exploring Re-identification Risks in Public Domains

Aditi Ramachandran, Lisa Singh, Edward H. Porter, Frank Nagle


While re-identification of sensitive data has been studied extensively, with the emergence of online social networks and the popularity of digital communications, the ability to use public data for re-identification has increased. This work begins by presenting two different cases studies for sensitive data reidentification. We conclude that targeted re-identification using traditional variables is not only possible, but fairly straightforward given the large amount of public data available. However, our first case study also indicates that large-scale re-identification is less likely. We then consider methods for agencies such as the Census Bureau to identify variables that cause individuals to be vulnerable without testing all combinations of variables. We show the effectiveness of different strategies on a Census Bureau data set and on a synthetic data set.


Aditi Ramachandran, Lisa Singh, Edward H. Porter, Frank Nagle. (2012). Exploring Re-identification Risks in Public Domains. Center for Statistical Research & Methodology Research Report Series (Statistics #2012-13). U.S. Census Bureau. Available online at <>.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Center for Statistical Research & Methodology, Research and Methodology Directorate

Published online: September 21, 2012
Last revised: September 21, 2012


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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Research and Methodology Directorate | Center for Statistical Research & Methodology | (301) 763-3215 (or |   Last Revised: September 11, 2013