“I Don’t Trust You”: the Response of American Citizens to U.S. Census Bureau Privacy and Disclosure Control, 1960-1970

Diana Magnuson, University of Minnesota
Steven Ruggles, University of Minnesota

In the twentieth century three waves of concern over privacy and the U.S. census were reported by American newspapers in response to proposed changes by the Census Bureau to enumeration schedules. In each wave, 1940, 1970, and 2000, newspaper coverage primarily focused on voicing the concerns of “everyman/woman” and noisy politicians to questions purported to invade the privacy of individuals. In the period from 1956 to 1970, the Census Bureau fielded letters from concerned American citizens about the invasion of their privacy from the decennial census. As we have noted elsewhere, the Census Bureau responded to public concerns about privacy with promises of confidentiality. Drawing on inter-Bureau memos, letters from American citizens, and Bureau correspondence with the public, this paper will expand the history of Census Bureau response to concerns about privacy and disclosure control during the 1960 and 1970 decennial census periods.

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 Presented in Session 30. History of Data and Statistics