IPUMS-International distributes integrated microdata of individuals and households only by agreement of collaborating national statistical offices and under the strictest of confidence. Before data may be distributed to an individual researcher, an electronic license agreement must be signed and approved.

To gain access to the data, a researcher must agree to the following:

  • Implement security measures to prevent unauthorized access to census microdata. Under IPUMS-International agreements with collaborating agencies, redistribution of the data to third parties is prohibited.
  • Use the microdata for the exclusive purposes of scholarly research and education. Researchers must explicitly agree to not use microdata acquired for any commercial or income-generating venture.
  • Maintain the confidentiality of persons, households, and other entities. Any attempt to ascertain the identity of persons or households from the microdata is prohibited. Alleging that a person or household has been identified is also prohibited.
  • Report all publications based on these data to IPUMS-International, which will in turn pass the information on to the relevant national statistical agencies

Once a project is approved, a password is issued and data may be acquired through the Internet. Penalties for violating the license include: revocation of the license, recall of all microdata acquired, filing of a motion of censure to the appropriate professional organizations, and civil prosecution under the relevant national or international statutes.

These safeguards mirror the principles from the Joint ECE/Eurostat Work Session on Statistical Data Confidentiality. Employees of the Minnesota Population Center who work with the census microdata to produce the harmonized database also sign agreements to respect the confidentiality of the data.

IPUMS-International works with each country's statistical office to minimize the risk of disclosure of respondent information. The details of the confidentiality protections vary across countries, but in all cases, names and detailed geographic information are suppressed and top-codes are imposed on variables such as income that might identify specific persons. In addition, IPUMS-International uses a variety of technical procedures to enhance confidentiality protection. These include the following:

  • Swapping an undisclosed fraction of records from one administrative district to another to make positive identification of individuals impossible.
  • Randomizing the placement of households within districts to disguise the order in which individuals were enumerated or the data processed.
  • Aggregating codes of sensitive characteristics (e.g., grouping together very small ethnic categories)
  • Top- and bottom-coding continuous variables to prevent identification of extreme cases.

The safety record for public-use census microdata is apparently perfect. In almost four decades of use, there has not been a single verified breach of statistical confidentiality. The measures implemented by the IPUMS-International are designed to extend this record.