February 8, 2023

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Database Reconstruction Is Not So Easy and Is Different from Reidentification. (arXiv:2301.10213v1 [cs.CR])

In recent years, it has been claimed that releasing accurate statistical
information on a database is likely to allow its complete reconstruction.
Differential privacy has been suggested as the appropriate methodology to
prevent these attacks. These claims have recently been taken very seriously by
the U.S. Census Bureau and led them to adopt differential privacy for releasing
U.S. Census data. This in turn has caused consternation among users of the
Census data due to the lack of accuracy of the protected outputs. It has also
brought legal action against the U.S. Department of Commerce. In this paper, we
trace the origins of the claim that releasing information on a database
automatically makes it vulnerable to being exposed by reconstruction attacks
and we show that this claim is, in fact, incorrect. We also show that
reconstruction can be averted by properly using traditional statistical
disclosure control (SDC) techniques. We further show that the geographic level
at which exact counts are released is even more relevant to protection than the
actual SDC method employed. Finally, we caution against confusing
reconstruction and reidentification: using the quality of reconstruction as a
metric of reidentification results in exaggerated reidentification risk
figures.