Alabama drops lawsuit challenging Census privacy method

FILE - Rows of homes, are shown in suburban Salt Lake City, on April 13, 2019. Utah is one of two Western states known for rugged landscapes and wide-open spaces that are bucking the trend of sluggish U.S. population growth. The boom there and in Idaho are accompanied by healthy economic expansion, but also concern about strain on infrastructure and soaring housing prices. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The state of Alabama on Thursday asked to dismiss its lawsuit challenging the U.S. Census Bureau’s use of a controversial statistical method aimed at keeping people’s data private in the numbers used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

Alabama and three Alabama politicians had sued the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, in an effort to stop the statistical agency from using the method known as “differential privacy.” They also wanted to force the bureau to release the redistricting numbers earlier than planned. Normally, the data are released at the end of March, but the Census Bureau pushed the deadline to August because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.


Alabama originally claimed the delay was caused by the bureau’s attempt to implement differential privacy, which the state’s attorneys said would result in inaccurate redistricting numbers. A three-judge panel in June refused to stop the Census Bureau from using the statistical method. In July, Alabama and the Commerce Department asked that the lawsuit be put on hold so that the state could decide how to proceed after the redistricting data were released in mid-August.

The dismissal request filed Thursday didn’t provide a reason, and Mike Lewis, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office in Montgomery, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Differential privacy adds intentional errors to the data to obscure the identity of any given participant in the 2020 census while still providing statistically valid information. The Census Bureau says more privacy protections are needed than in past decades as technological innovations magnify the threat of people being identified through their census answers, which are confidential by law.