Despite desire for shared data, Census Bureau stands on confidentiality law

State and local government officials would like to share data about addresses that the Census Bureau collects, but Title 13 of the U.S. Code forbids the information sharing. Some attendees at the Geospatial Summit, a conference presented by 1105 Government Information Group, raised that concern.

The Census Bureau issued its official response to the question today: "The Census Bureau is exploring various possibilities to work with local governments to maintain and update its address database in ways that are totally consistent with current Title 13 confidentiality guarantees.”

Stanley Rolark, chief of the Public Information Office at Census, said the statement was a response to an FCW article published on Sept. 13, based on comments made at the summit by Michael Ratcliffe, assistant division chief for geocartographic products in the bureau’s geography division.

In response to a question from the audience regarding the difficulty of sharing information with states under the law, Ratcliffe was quoted stating that the bureau was leaning toward endorsing a partial repeal of Title 13, for addresses only, for the purposes of improving the efficiency of sharing address information.

Ratcliffe was not available to clarify his statement on Sept. 14. However, another census official, speaking on background, said the census bureau has not officially held any discussions, nor has it been approached by any lawmakers, to consider, or endorse, an amendment of Title 13.

“There are no discussions happening [about changes to Title 13] at this time,” the official said in a phone interview on Sept. 14. “It has not come up. We are working within the confidentiality provisions and trying to find new opportunities to expand partnerships with state and local agencies."

Under the Census Address List Improvement Act of 1994, the bureau has been undertaking a number of projects that allow state and local agencies to participate in partnerships with the Census Bureau to leverage some of the advantages of census data, while remaining within Title 13 constraints.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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