In 1999 the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) held a workshop focused on the procedures used by agencies and organizations for releasing public-use microdata files and for establishing restricted access to nonpublic files. Tradeoffs between research and other data user needs and confidentiality requirements were articulated, as were the relative advantages and costs of data alteration techniques versus restricted (physical) access arrangements. The report of that workshop, Improving Access to and Confidentiality of Research Data (National Research Council 2000), provided a starting point for the panel’s work.
The panel’s workshop followed up on many of the topics discussed in the 1999 workshop, but the focus was less on what agencies are currently doing and more toward emerging opportunities, specifically relating to research access to longitudinal microdata. Participants provided an in-depth look at a number of topics ranging from the role of licensing and penalties for infringing on licensing agreements to the potential of data linking (e.g., between survey and administrative data), particularly the technical, legal, and statistical arrangements that would be needed to promote linking within and between agencies and between government and private-sector data producers. The workshop also sought to promote discussion of how to measure the risks and costs associated with data use, disclosure, and limiting access; what levels of risk are acceptable; and public perceptions about privacy as they pertain to market data in comparison with government data.
The first day was devoted to three topics on risks and opportunities: legal, technical and organizational, and normative. The papers and discussion in the first session examined various aspects of the legal landscape, emphasizing important recent changes, particularly the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA). The papers highlighted that the legal framework offers a range of opportunities for promoting wider access to research data. For example, through the use of licensing agreements, some of the legal responsibility for maintaining confidentiality can be shifted to data users by the agencies that collect the data.
The papers and discussion in the second session focused primarily on technical and organizational opportunities, both on a general level and as manifested by special organizations like the Census Bureau’s Research Data Centers and remote access to data that are stored centrally. The third session was devoted to the difficult problem of accurately assessing dis-