AbstractThe U.S. Census has grappled with public concerns about privacy since the first enumeration in 1790. Beginning in the mid‐nineteenth century, census officials began responding to concerns about privacy with promises of confidentiality. In recent years, escalating concerns about confidentiality have threatened to reduce the usability of publicly accessible population data. This paper traces the history of privacy and disclosure control since 1790. We argue that controlling public access to census information has never been an effective response to public concerns about government intrusion. We conclude that the Census Bureau should weigh the costs of curtailing access to reliable data against realistic measures of the benefit of new approaches to disclosure control.

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