Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > Census Policy on Providing Sensitive Data Is Revised

The New York Times > Washington > Census Policy on Providing Sensitive Data Is Revised:
"The Census Bureau announced on Monday that it would no longer assist law enforcement or intelligence agencies with special tabulations on ethnic groups and other 'sensitive populations' without the approval of senior bureau officials.

The policy shift comes in response to weeks of criticism after the recent disclosure that the bureau had compiled detailed demographic data on Arab-Americans for the Department of Homeland Security. "

Findings of a Freedom of Information Act request disclosed in July showed that the Census Bureau had produced two specially tabulated demographic tables on Arab-Americans for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. One table provided ZIP code-level breakdowns of Arab-Americans of various national origins. The cooperation was legal and the statistics used to compile the tables were publicly available. But the assistance sparked complaints from ethnic, privacy and civil rights groups that the Census Bureau was using its powers to aid law enforcement.

"We recognize that simply making sure we obey the law may not always be enough to ensure that people trust us," said C. Louis Kincannon, the census director. "Perception also affects how people view and cooperate with the census. This is an interim step to restore trust."

The Census Bureau already has rules requiring senior-level approval of special tabulation requests for which the agency is paid. The new procedure, to take effect immediately, extends that rule to informal, nonreimbursable requests from government agencies, private organizations and individuals. The expanded policy will cover the data on a wide variety of demographic groups including racial and ethnic minorities, the disabled and noncitizens.

"Over all, the policy change is welcomed as a positive step," said Helen Hatab Samhan, the executive director of the Arab American Institute Foundation, which this month sent the Census Bureau a letter of complaint signed by more than 50 organizations and individuals.

Ms. Samhan and others said questions remained about how the new policy would be carried out.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/31/politics/31census.html
con·cept: The New York Times > Washington > Census Policy on Providing Sensitive Data Is Revised