Title 13 and Confidentiality of Census Data

Image courtesy of  Rob Pongsajapan , Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Rob Pongsajapan, Flickr Creative Commons

As I travel across Oregon and speak with folks about Census 2020, a question that individuals ask me more than any other question is: “What can the U.S. Census Bureau do with the personal information they collect? Specifically, can the Bureau share the information with other government agencies?”

The short answer is that Title 13 of the United States Code specifically addresses and ensures the confidentiality of census data.

Title 13, codified in 1954 following the misuse of census data to intern Japanese Americans during World War II, is designed to protect census data collected from individuals and businesses. The data protection comes in a number of ways:

  • Private information is never published. Title 13 prohibits the Bureau from publishing names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, and telephone numbers.

  • The information is used for statistical purposes and cannot be used against respondents by government agencies or courts.

  • Bureau employees, including census enumerators, are sworn for life to protect information and face severe penalties for violating their oath to confidentiality.

  • Violators of these principles can face time in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.

If you’re interested in reading a complete version of Title 13, you can find it here. More information on the Bureau’s Data Protection and Privacy Program is available here.

Update: The Census Bureau recently published a blog post that details the questions respondents should expect to be asked on the upcoming survey and includes important sections on how to avoid scams and data confidentiality, available here.

For information on Differential Privacy and Disclosure Avoidance check out our post on the subject here.

Jason Jurjevich