Census Confidentiality under the Second War Powers Act (1942-1947)

William Seltzer, Fordham University
Margo Anderson, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee

The Second War Powers Act was enacted in March 1942. One section of this law authorized the Secretary of Commerce to provide information to other Government agencies, including micro data collected under a pledge of confidentiality, if the data were needed “for use in connection with the conduct of the war.” The extent to which this provision was actually used has been disputed. This paper, based on recent research, provides evidence of specific disclosures made between 1942 and 1947 of micro data collected by the Census Bureau under the confidentiality assurances of Title 13. The examples cited pertain to both businesses and persons, including micro-level information on persons obtained from the 1940 Census. Based on the materials so far located, it appears that Census Bureau staff and management considered such disclosures to be routine. The paper places these disclosures in the context of broader issues related to statistical confidentiality.

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Presented in Session 97: Confidentiality, Privacy, and Ethical Issues in Demographic Data