State of Transportation Statistics - Box 5

State of Transportation Statistics - Box 5

Data Confidentiality

Confidentiality concerns raise questions about what should be protected and ultimately determine the content and uses of data systems and limit access to data even when legitimate needs arise. The laws and regulations concerning data confidentiality are designed to limit the release of data. Legislation, such as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is intended to guarantee access to information. Government and industry may be authorized to collect data with personal, proprietary, law enforcement or classified information, but they may also be permitted to withhold or prohibited from releasing that data to others if it would violate confidentiality rules.

Personal information. The Privacy Act guarantees citizens protection against unwarranted invasion of their privacy, including collection and dissemination of personal information.

Proprietary information. Commercial enterprises may limit the distribution of information that is business-sensitive.

Law enforcement information. Certain law enforcement information may be protected from disclosure to ensure the safety of law enforcement personnel and the integrity of operations.

Classified information. Information that is classified by the federal government for reasons of national security is prohibited from public disclosure.

The general solution is to aggregate the data to a level where confidentiality is moot. Statistical agencies such as BTS can play a pivotal role here. They usually have legislation that protects data from certain FOIA requests, making them logical collectors of confidential information. They then can aggregate that information to a level where confidentiality concerns are eliminated and provide that data to those who need it. If they cannot release the data, they may be able to conduct the desired analysis of the protected data and provide the results in a manner that protects confidentiality.