Sometimes when I try to download a data zip file I see a popup that states like this:

"Under law, public use data collected and distributed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) may be used only for statistical purposes. Any effort to determine the identity of any reported case by public-use data users is prohibited by law."

Can I put the contents of this data on a website?

What does this sentence mean? "Any effort to determine the identity of any reported case by public-use data users is prohibited by law"

  • It might be related to FERPA, although as I understand it, the law is against the release of certain data, not the usage once it's been released. (I used to work for a university ... although a university that was using SSNs as 'student ID' numbers, and insisted that requiring someone's 'student ID' number and being sloppy with it wasn't a big deal, because they could request a new one that wasn't their SSN) – Joe Dec 23 '14 at 18:26

My interpretation is the data can only be used in aggregate (counts and statistics). You cannot use it to identify an individual person. For example, linking a public event (e.g. car accident) with public health data (e.g. Medicare ambulatory event) to gain an individual's medical information.


  • There is no personal info, no SSN etc. in the data. – Tony Dec 24 '14 at 0:45
  • 2
    @Tony, but based on the data you could find stories in the media to gain personal information. – philshem Dec 24 '14 at 7:47

You may use public data from federal agencies as long as the data is not used in a way to identify individuals. You will see this license restriction particularly wherever there is health data. In addition to the US Dept. of Ed, you see the same license statement at the CDC, Dept. of Health and US Census. Here's the CDC:

   *1.  Use the data in this dataset for statistical reporting and
       analysis only.
   2.  Make no use of the identity of any person or establishment
       discovered inadvertently and advise the Director, NCHS, of any
       such discovery.
   3.  Not link this dataset with individually identifiable data from
       other NCHS or non-NCHS datasets.*

Here's an excerpt on using DataFerrett/US Census:

Read Carefully Before Using The Public Health Service Act (Section 308 (d) ) provides that the data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), may be used only for the purpose of health statistical reporting and analysis. Any effort to determine the identity of any reported case is prohibited by this law.

Here is the US Dept of Health and Human Services: Individual identifiers have been removed from the micro-data contained in the public use data files. Nevertheless, under sections 308 (d) and 903 (c) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 242m and 42 U.S.C. 299 a-1), data collected by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and /or the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) may not be used for any purpose other than for the purpose for which it was supplied; any effort to determine the identity of any reported cases, is prohibited by law. Unauthorized disclosure of confidential information is subject to penalty under Title IX of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. 299, Section 924(d), which reads as follows: "Any person who violates subsection (c) shall be subject to a civil monetary penalty of not more the same manner as civil money penalties under subsection (a) of section 1128A of the Social Security Act are imposed and collected." Therefore in accordance with the above referenced Federal Statute, it is understood that: 1. No one is to use the data in this data set in any way except for statistical reporting and analysis; and 2. If the identity of any person or establishment should be discovered inadvertently, then (a) no use will be made of this knowledge, (b) The Director Office of Management AHRQ will be advised of this incident, (c) the information that would identify any individual or establishment will be safeguarded or destroyed, as requested by AHRQ, and (d) no one else will be informed of the discovered identity. 3. No one will attempt to link this data set with individually identifiable records from any data sets other than the Medical Expenditure Panel survey or the National Health Interview Survey. **


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