summarized in Chapter 4 and elsewhere (see National Research Council, 2004b; Hillygus et al., 2006). In addition, there is survey evidence that many members of the public do not believe the government’s pledge that data will be kept confidential. In one survey, less than half of the public said that the promise of census confidentiality could be trusted. Also, nearly as many Americans agree as disagree that census answers can be used against them (Hillygus et al., 2006).
A vivid expression of public concern about the privacy and confidentiality of government statistics emerged in spring 2000, when talk show hosts, editorial pages, late-night comics, and even political leaders attacked the 2000 census long form on grounds that it was too intrusive. Responding to a public outcry, President George W. Bush, then a presidential candidate, said he understood “why people don’t want to give over that information to the government. If I had the long form, I’m not so sure I would do it either” (Prewitt, 2004:1452). The U.S. Senate passed a nonbinding resolution urging that “no American be prosecuted, fined, or in any way harassed by the federal government” for not answering certain questions on the census long form, in effect telling the public it was acceptable to break the law (Prewitt, 2004). Many more census respondents in 2000 than in 1990 answered long-form questions only selectively, leading to unprecedented levels of imputed values for missing responses (National Research Council, 2004b:283-285).
Relevant research does not draw a clear distinction between the effects of privacy concerns and confidentiality concerns on survey response. However, the long-form controversy suggests that it will be useful in future research to determine when respondents are resisting “unwarranted intrusiveness” simply because they do not like particular questions (a privacy concern) and when they are uncooperative because of fears about “unauthorized disclosure” (a confidentiality concern).
The Census Bureau recognized the importance of this distinction when, in its statement of privacy principles for the general public, first developed in 2000, it acknowledged the importance of balancing the need for statistical information with a respect for individual privacy. The Census Bureau now offers a principle, titled “respectful treatment of respondents,” under which it offers two promises (for voluntary surveys): “we promise to respect your right to refuse to answer any specific questions or participate in the survey” and “we promise to set reasonable limits on our efforts to obtain completed questionnaires and will restrict the number of follow-up contacts we conduct” (www.census.gov/privacy/files/data_protection/002822.html).
This newly articulated principle on the part of the Census Bureau is indicative of how much has changed in the few years since Private Lives and Public Policies was issued. Few people would have suggested in 1993