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Policymakers need information about the United States ranging from trends in the overall economy down to the use by individuals of Medicare in order to evaluate existing programs and to develop new ones. This information often comes from research based on data about individual people, households, and businesses and other organizations, collected by statistical agencies. The benefit of increasing data accessibility to researchers and analysts is better informed public policy. To realize this benefit, a variety of modes for data access including restricted access to confidential data and unrestricted access to appropriately altered public-use data must be used.
The risk of expanded access to potentially sensitive data is the increased probability of breaching the confidentiality of the data and, in turn, eroding public confidence in the data collection enterprise. This publication provides guidance on how to more fully exploit these tradeoffs. The panel's recommendations focus on needs highlighted by legal, social, and technological changes that have occurred during the last decade.