Census Bureau Adopts Policy On Sensitive Data Release
The U.S. Census Bureau has announced that it was implementing new procedures regarding the release of potentially sensitive data to requesting law enforcement agencies and organizations or individuals.
Effective immediately, all special tabulations of data requested by a federal, state or local law enforcement agency or intelligence agency will require prior approval by the appropriate Associate Director at the Bureau whenever the request involves sensitive populations, including minority groups.
“This action demonstrates that the Census Bureau is committed to maintaining the trust of the American people by respecting privacy and ensuring confidentiality,” said Director Louis Kincannon.
Until now, requests for special tabulations have been reviewed only if the Bureau was reimbursed for the work, usually by non-governmental organizations, businesses or individuals.
Most tabulations for government agencies, including law enforcement offices, did not require reimbursement, and were not reviewed. Under the new policy, all requests for special tabulations will undergo the same review process.
Kincannon said the policy change was made in response to recent concerns about data tabulations provided to law enforcement agencies that are now part of the Department of Homeland Security. “Those tabulations did not reveal any information about individuals, were entirely legal, and the data also were publicly available on our Web site,” said Kincannon.
“However, the Bureau must be sensitive to public perceptions of any threat to confidentiality or privacy stemming from Census data. We rely on the voluntary participation of millions of Americans to obtain the information that is essential to our mission.”
The new policy defines sensitive populations to include children, limited speaking and non-English speaking persons, non-citizens, prisoners, impoverished and terminally ill patients, and small minority groups.
Special tabulations are aggregated statistics that can only be produced from confidential information, which are then modified into anonymous public data files. The policy change also effects extracts, which merely reformats data or statistics derived from existing Census information.
Effective immediately, individuals or organizations requesting extracts will be advised to obtain the information from the Bureau’s Web site. The Bureau will provide assistance in navigating the Bureau’s Web-based tools such as American FactFinder.
When this is impractical, Census Bureau staffers will be permitted to generate the requested data, but will ask for the name and affiliation of the person requesting the information. If the requestor is from a law enforcement office or intelligence agency, and/or the request involves a sensitive population, the request must first be approved by a senior Census Bureau official.