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Census Raises Privacy Concerns

March 2, 2010
by Daniel Guarnera
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Stand up and be counted!

In accordance with Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the government has to conduct a census every ten years. The census is used to determine how seats in the House of Representatives are distributed, how money for federal programs is allocated, and to take a comprehensive "snapshot" of the population. Most people will receive forms mailed to them in mid-March, and Census Bureau "enumerators" will go around and follow-up on those who don't mail back the data.

Several patients at the treatment program where I intern have

applied to work for the census, since it's short-term but pays well and many positions are open for people with criminal records. Workers are needed in literally every community in America, so if you know someone who needs work, you might want to let them know ...

But the census also raises some confidentiality questions for treatment programs: for example, how do you submit data without violating 42 CFR and other HIPAA privacy statutes?

Legal Action Center has

released a document that seeks to answer some of these questions. According to LAC, one way to allay these concerns is to have a member of your program's staff attend a four-hour training at a

local U.S. Census Bureau office and be sworn in as an enumerator. That staff member can then work with patients to ensure that everyone fills out a form properly, while not requiring any outside census-taker to learn who's in treatment.

Whether or not a staff member becomes an enumerator, LAC recommends that patients sign consent releases if they include their names on the census forms. Names are not required for the census, however, and as long as there is no identifying information, disclosure forms are not required.

Census enumerators cannot leave forms with treatment staff--forms must be hand-delivered by trained census-takers and hand-returned to them. This means that if an enumerator comes to your program, they will ask to interact with patients in person. Consent forms must be given to patients in this case, or a room can be set up for people to come voluntarily. For any patients who refuse to give consent, the enumerator will ask the program director for basic information about such patients, and the program should feel free to provide as much information as possible as long as the patients involved cannot be identified by it.



Daniel Guarnera

Daniel Guarnera is the Director of Government Relations for NAADAC, The Association for...

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