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Census Research Guide

A guide to understanding and locating data produced by the U.S. Census Bureau

Census Privacy & Confidentiality

Census Privacy & Confidentiality

Federal Law Protects Your Information. The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code. This law not only provides authority for the work we do, but also provides strong protection for the information we collect from individuals and businesses. As a result, the Census Bureau has one of the strongest confidentiality guarantees in the federal government.

It is against the law for any Census Bureau employee to disclose or publish any census or survey information that identifies an individual or business. This is true even for inter-agency communication: the FBI and other government entities do not have the legal right to access this information. In fact, when these protections have been challenged, Title 13's confidentiality guarantee has been upheld.

For more information about how the Census Bureau safeguards the data it collects, visit the agency's Data Protection and Disclosure Avoidance Working Papers Web sites.

A History of Census Privacy Protections

Today’s law is clear: The Census Bureau must keep responses completely confidential.

See how the laws and protections have changed from 1790 to the 2020 Census—the first census to use advanced disclosure protections based on the new data science known as “differential privacy.”

Disclosure Avoidance and the 2020 Census

Disclosure Avoidance and the 2020 Census

The 2020 Census will use a powerful new privacy protection system known in scientific circles as “differential privacy,” designed specifically for the digital age. The Census Bureau is transitioning to this new, privacy protection system to keep pace with emerging threats in today’s digital world.

Census FAQ:

Why is the U.S. Census Bureau moving to a new privacy protection system?

A new disclosure avoidance system (DAS) is needed to defend against new threats posed by today’s technology: growing computing power, advances in mathematics, and easy access to large, public databases. Combined, these changes could allow highly sophisticated users to identify common data points between our published statistics, or between our statistics and outside databases. They could use these common threads to potentially identify the people or businesses behind the statistics. Our research shows that the risk of successful re-identifications is unacceptably large. We are committed to applying better and stronger protections with each advance in data science.

To learn more, please see: Protecting the Confidentiality of America’s Statistics: Adopting Modern Disclosure Avoidance Methods at the Census Bureau and Ensuring Confidentiality and Fitness-for-Use.

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