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Our Authority

The census has been guided by authorizing legislation since 1790. Through the mid-nineteenth century, this legislation was very detailed: it listed questions to be asked and gave detailed instructions to the census-takers.

Although the Secretary of State was the nominal national head of the early censuses, almost all of the work for the count was done on the state and local level by federal marshals. The lack of national leadership meant that census acts had to be very specific; it was the only way the federal government could assure that the marshals would return standardized information.

As census operations became more centralized and federalized in the latter part of the nineteenth century, legislation relating to the census became less detailed. Instead, it directed broad categories of questions to be asked, and left the actual design of census questionnaires up to the superintendent of the census.

The modern U.S. Census Bureau has been shaped by two pieces of twentieth century legislation: the 1902 legislation that made the Census Office a permanent agency and the 1954 legislation that combined the existing laws governing the Census Bureau's statistical programs and codified them in Title 13. Title 13 is the section of U.S. Code that governs Census Bureau activities to this day.

Protection of Title 13 Data

Title 13

The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code. These laws not only provide authority for the work we do, but also provide strong protection for the information we collect from individuals and businesses.

Title 13 provides the following protections to individuals and businesses:

  • Private information is never published. It is against the law to disclose or publish any private information that identifies an individual or business such, including names, addresses (including GPS coordinates), Social Security Numbers, and telephone numbers.
  • The Census Bureau collects information to produce statistics. Personal information cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court.
  • Census Bureau employees are sworn to protect confidentiality. People sworn to uphold Title 13 are legally required to maintain the confidentiality of your data. Every person with access to your data is sworn for life to protect your information and understands that the penalties for violating this law are applicable for a lifetime.
  • Violating the law is a serious federal crime. Anyone who violates this law will face severe penalties, including a federal prison sentence of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

Protection of Title 26 Data

Publication of all statistical products by the Census Bureau, including those based in whole or in part on administrative records covered by Title 26, are subject to disclosure avoidance procedures prescribed by the Census Bureau's internal Disclosure Review Board. Additionally, products using administrative records data are subject to any additional disclosure review required by the supplying agency.

The Census Bureau's main computer system that stores and processes the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) resides behind the Census Bureau firewall(s). Access to the system and file structure is controlled by access control lists and specific user privileges. All activity on the system is recorded in security audit logs that are reviewed on a regular basis by designated personnel. Any anomalies noted are reported to the Census Bureau's IT Security Office, which conducts an investigation and documents the findings for management review.

Title 26

The Internal Revenue Code (IRC) is the body of law that codifies all federal tax laws, including income, estate, gift, excise, alcohol, tobacco, and employment taxes. U.S. tax laws began to be codified in 1874, but there was no central, comprehensive source for them at that time. The IRC was originally compiled in 1939 and overhauled in 1954 and 1986. This code is the definitive source of all tax laws in the United States and has the force of law in and of itself.

These laws constitute Title 26 of the U.S. Code (26 U.S.C.A. § 1 et seq. [1986]) and are implemented by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) through its Treasury Regulations and Revenue Rulings.

Congress made major statutory changes to Title 26 in 1939, 1954, and 1986. Because of the extensive revisions made in the Tax Reform Act of 1986, Title 26 is now known as the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (Pub. L. No. 99-514, § 2, 100 Stat. 2095 [Oct. 22, 1986]).

Title 26, U.S. Code applies to the statistical work conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau's collection of IRS data about households and businesses. Title 26 provides for the conditions under which the IRS may disclose Federal Tax Returns and Return Information (FTI) to other agencies, including the Census Bureau. Specifically, Title 26, U.S. Code 6103 (j) (1) permits the IRS to share FTI with the Census Bureau for statistical purposes in the structuring of censuses and national economic accounts, as well as for conducting related statistical activities authorized by law.

Page Last Revised - December 16, 2021
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