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2010 Census Special Tabulation Program

Protecting Confidentiality

Special tabulations must be approved by the Census Bureau’s Disclosure Review Board (DRB). The DRB is a panel of Census Bureau staff chartered to protect the confidentiality of data from individuals (or business establishments). Their role is to review each special tabulation specification and to issue specific rules in addition to standard confidentiality protection measures.

Title 13 U.S. Code

Title 13 of the U.S. Code authorizes the Census Bureau to conduct surveys and censuses and mandates that any information obtained from private individuals and establishments remains confidential. Section 9 of Title 13 prohibits the Census Bureau from releasing “any publication whereby the data furnished by any particular establishment or individual under this title can be identified.” Section 214 of Title 13, as modified by the Federal Sentencing Reform Act, imposes a fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 5 years for publication or communication in violation of Section 9.

Therefore, upon completion of the tabulation, the data produced will be reviewed by the Census Bureau to ensure that no identifiable Title 13 data are or may be disclosed.  Should it be determined that the requested tabulation does or reasonably could result in such disclosure, it will not be released to the requester.  In that event, the data will be modified to further protect confidentiality.

Disclosure Avoidance

Disclosure avoidance is the process of disguising data to protect confidentiality. A disclosure of data occurs when someone can use publicly available statistical information to identify an individual who provided information under a pledge of confidentiality. Using disclosure avoidance, the Census Bureau modifies or removes all of the characteristics that put confidential information at risk for disclosure. Although it may appear that a table shows information about a specific individual, the Census Bureau has taken steps (such as data swapping) to disguise the original data while making sure the results are useful.

Data Swapping

Data swapping is a method of disclosure avoidance designed to protect confidentiality in tables of frequency data (the number or percentage of the population with certain characteristics). Data swapping is done by editing the source data or exchanging records for a sample of cases. A sample of households is selected and matched on a set of selected key variables with households in neighboring geographic areas (geographic areas with a small population) that have similar characteristics (same number of adults, same number of children, etc.). Because the swap often occurs within a geographic area with a small population, there is no effect on the marginal totals for the geographic area with a small population or for totals that include data from multiple geographic areas with small populations. Because of data swapping, users should not assume that tables with cells having a value of one or two reveal information about specific individuals.

At a minimum, all data cells in special tabulations (excluding derived measures) produced from the 2010 Census will be rounded. Additional disclosure avoidance requirements, such as thresholds on universes for small population groups, may apply to your 2010 Census special tabulation. The project manager for your special tabulation will work with you to construct a request that will meet the DRB requirements.

For more information, see the Census Bureau’s policy on data protection.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division