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Report

Federal Laws That Protect Census Confidentiality

Summary: How federal law protects responses to the 2020 Census.

Published: 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.