Federal Laws That Protect Census Confidentiality

February 20, 2019

The 2020 Census is rapidly approaching. A fair and accurate census depends on every person’s responses remaining confidential. The Census Bureau has repeatedly affirmed the importance of confidentiality to its mission. Congress and numerous presidential administrations have similarly long recognized the centrality of strict confidentiality to getting a complete count. Nevertheless, in today’s environment, trust in the federal government is at an extreme low, especially among communities of color. Many people are fearful that their responses to the 2020 Census might be used against them or their families for immigration or law enforcement purposes.

Any effort to use census data in this way, however, would run headlong into robust laws that protect the confidentiality of census data and would trigger a fierce legal fight. This document provides an overview of the strong, long-standing legal protections that prohibit the Census Bureau or any other part of the federal government from using census data against the people who supply it.

Read a Q&A with the Brennan Center's Kelly Percival on what the government can and can't do with census data.