As a Federal statistical agency, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) must meet both its mission requirements to collect and disseminate high quality transportation information and its legal and ethical obligations to respect the privacy of those who have provided the information.
When BTS collects transportation information for a statistical purpose under a pledge of confidentiality, BTS is required by law to protect the information. Respondents must be able to trust that information they provide to BTS will be protected and not be subject to unauthorized disclosure. For that reason, BTS implements confidentiality procedures to protect individually identifiable information.
BTS CONFIDENTIALITY PROCEDURES
BTS takes privacy laws and its ethical obligation to protect information very seriously. BTS has standard confidentiality procedures in place throughout the agency to ensure protection and security of respondents data. BTS makes sure your personal information is not disclosed to any unauthorized person. It does this through:
- Security measures that block outside access to any confidential information stored on BTS computers,
- A requirement that all BTS employees and contractors sign a nondisclosure agreement making them subject to several laws that provide stiff penalties (including jail time) for unauthorized release of confidential information,
- Confidentiality training for all employees and contractors on an annual basis,
- Random inspections to ensure that employees and contractors observe all information security protocols and confidentiality procedures,
- Deletion of names, addresses, or any other items that could directly identify an individual or business from BTS data files, and
- Application of disclosure limitation methods prior to release of any data so that no confidential information about individuals or businesses can be inferred from released data.
LAWS THAT PROTECT YOUR INFORMATION
BTS is authorized by law1 to collect transportation information for its various program needs. BTS confidentiality statute2 and other laws3 protect the information BTS collects. These laws ensure that any identifying, sensitive, or proprietary information that BTS collects is not released to unauthorized persons or organizations.
Specifically, BTS is subject to the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) of 20024. In 2003, BTS hosted a series of Confidentiality Seminars in response to the passage of CIPSEA. When BTS collects or acquires information for a statistical purpose under CIPSEA, BTS:
- Must use a pledge of confidentiality,
- Must protect the information and cannot allow unauthorized access to the information,
- May share the information for statistical purposes if the respondent consents, and then only under a written agreement signed by the Director of BTS. The party or agent receiving the confidential information pledges confidentiality and is then subject to the restrictions and penalties provided in CIPSEA,
- Employees, contractors, and agents are subject to felony charges and fines for knowingly disclosing confidential information (5 years prison and/or $250,000 fine), and
- Cannot release the information under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
BTS uses a pledge of confidentiality when collecting or acquiring information for a statistical purpose. A pledge of confidentiality is a guarantee to the respondent that the agency will:
- Only use the information it collects for statistical purposes, and
- Actively protects the information from unauthorized disclosure and use.
DISCLOSURE LIMITATION METHODS
The BTS Disclosure Review Board (DRB) reviews BTS information products for disclosures of confidential information prior to public dissemination. BTS DRB requires application of disclosure limitation methods to information products to protect the confidentiality of data. By doing this, BTS seeks to prevent anyone from using published statistical data to identify either an individual or business that has provided confidential information under a pledge of confidentiality. These disclosure limitation methods modify or remove the characteristics that put information at risk for disclosure.
BTS sometimes releases microdata files. These files contain individuals' responses. All individual identifiers (such as name and address) are removed from these records. In addition, BTS modifies unique characteristics (such as high levels of income) through disclosure limitation methods. And, BTS restricts geographic identifiers (such as the name of a city) so that populations are composed of at least 100,000 people. For tables of data, BTS takes steps to disguise or suppress the original data to ensure confidentiality.
Sharing Statistical Data with Other Federal Statistical Agencies and Researchers
The Evidence Act of 2018, informed by the findings of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, requires that the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) establish an Standard Application Process (SAP) that will be adopted by statistical agencies and units and allow agencies, the Congressional Budget Office, State, local, and Tribal governments, researchers, and other individuals, as appropriate, and for the purposes of developing evidence, to apply for access to certain confidential data accessed or acquired by statistical agencies or units (44 U.S.C. 3583(a)).
BTS has joined with the Interagency Committee on Statistical Policy (ICSP) and other federal statistical agencies to create the standard application process and to establish comprehensive application review criteria. One purpose of the SAP is to allow federal statistical agencies and researchers to share already-gathered confidential statistical data, in order to lessen potential exposure risks to respondents through duplicative surveys. A primary purpose the application review criteria is to ensure federal agencies are able to maintain the promise of confidentiality made under CIPSEA, even as data is being re-used.
BTS staff will review each application carefully. BTS-collected confidential statistical data will only be shared with other agencies and researchers if BTS is satisfied that the proposed disclosure limitation methods meet BTS standards, as noted above.
QUESTIONS ABOUT KEEPING YOUR INFORMATION CONFIDENTIAL?
For more information on BTS confidentiality practices, or for comments and concerns, please contact the BTS Confidentiality Officer:
1 49 U.S.C. 111(c)(2).
2 49 U.S.C. 111(i).
3 18 U.S.C. 1905; The Privacy Act of 1974; and Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) of 2002 (Public Law 107-347, Title V, Subtitle A).
4 Public Law 107-347, Title V, Subtitle A.