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E.  Legal acts protecting confidentiality  

2.17.        According to the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics of the United Nations, individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes.[1] Statistical confidentiality is a key element in producing reliable statistics, as it is important to gain the trust of the data providers. Thus, legal provisions should be established to ensure confidentiality and the proper use of data and to prevent the dissemination of identifiable enterprise-specific information.

2.18.       Legal acts on confidentiality should also address the use of administrative data for official statistical purposes. In particular, it is important that legal acts state that administrative data  forwarded to the statistical authority become statistical data upon receipt, which implies that such data, once validated and edited by the statistical agency, should not be shared with the administrative authority that initially provided it. (Examples of legal acts on data confidentiality are provided in boxes 2.1 and 2.2.)

Confidentiality of customs declarations

2.19.        In general, customs declarations are not subject to the same level of confidentiality measures as other statistical instruments. By design, customs declarations are used to assess tariffs, fees and taxes, and to enforce multiple agencies’ requirements for the admissibility of goods into a country or to enforce a country’s export laws and regulations. Once customs declarations are transmitted to the agency responsible for the compilation of international trade statistics, in many cases, that agency treats the information as confidential. However, in most cases, the compiling agency does not subject all data to rigorous disclosure reviews, and rather applies “passive disclosure” methods by which importers or exporters inform the agency of possible situations for investigation and of the need for  some form of statistical suppression. Such passive disclosure methods should be well noted by statistical compilers when considering obtaining information on cross-border trade in services, for example from customs declarations.

2.20.        The compiling agency may also establish regulations to safeguard confidentiality in the exchange of basic information among agencies. However, regardless of the legal status of confidential information, whether personal or commercial, such information should not be excluded from the statistics, but rather should be reported in aggregate form so that its confidential aspects cannot be identified (see chapter 20). It is further desirable that national legislation define rights and responsibilities regarding access to microdata, highlighting the appropriate principles and procedures. The responsible agency should cooperate with the national legislature to establish such laws.   

Box 2.1

Confidentiality Act of the Philippines

The confidentiality of data in the Philippines is based on provisions of Commonwealth Act No. 591, section 4. The Act states, inter alia, that data furnished to the Bureau of the Census and Statistics by an individual, corporation, partnership, institution or business enterprise shall not be used in any court or in any public office either as evidence for or against the individual, corporation, association, partnership, institution or business enterprise from whom such data emanates; nor shall such data or information be divulged to any person except authorized employees of the Bureau of the Census and Statistics, acting in the performance of their duties; nor shall such data be published except in the form of summaries or statistical tables in which no reference to an individual, corporation, association, partnership, institution or business enterprise shall appear. Any person violating the provisions of this section shall, upon conviction, be punished by a fine or by imprisonment, or by both.

Note: See

Box 2.2

Legal act on confidentiality: example of the European Union

Member states of the European Union must comply with regulation No. 223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 2009 on European statistics, which contains provisions on data confidentiality. Article 20 states, in particular, that confidential data obtained exclusively for the production of European statistics shall be used by the national statistics institutes and other national authorities and by the Commission (Eurostat) exclusively for statistical purposes unless the statistical unit has unambiguously given its consent to the use for any other purposes (article 20, point 2), and that statistical results which may make it possible to identify a statistical unit may be disseminated by the national statistics institutes and other national authorities and the Commission (Eurostat) in the following exceptional cases: (a) where specific conditions and modalities are determined by an act of the European Parliament and of the Council acting in accordance with article 251 of the Treaty and the statistical results are amended in such a way that their dissemination does not prejudice statistical confidentiality whenever the statistical unit has so requested; or (b) where the statistical unit has unambiguously agreed to the disclosure of data. (article 20, points 3 and 3(a))

Next: F. Country experiences (Chapter 2)




[1] See Economic and Social Council resolution 2013/21. In addition, the General Assembly adopted resolution 68/261 (without a vote), thereby endorsing  the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, as adopted by the Statistical Commission in 1994 and reaffirmed in 2013, and endorsed by the Economic and Social Council in its resolution 2013/21.