|December 10, 2003|
Protecting Confidentiality in TEDS
Preserving the confidentiality of survey and administrative data in publicly distributed data files is central to maintaining the trust of study participants and the ongoing ability of Federal agencies to collect important statistical information on State and national trends, service utilization, treatment outcomes, and numerous other topics. How are promises of confidentiality maintained? This report explains the general methods used to protect data and the specific methods applied to the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS).
TEDS is an annual compilation of data on the demographic characteristics and substance abuse problems of those admitted for substance abuse treatment. The information comes primarily from facilities that receive some public funding. TEDS records represent admissions rather than individuals, as a person may be admitted to treatment more than one time during a calendar year.
Routine confidentiality protection measures include removing direct identifiers such as name, social security and other identification numbers, and address. Routine processes may also include techniques such as:
These measures help remove the uniqueness of individual records within a file.
To determine if there are any remaining threats to confidentiality, a disclosure analysis is conducted. Disclosure analysis involves the careful examination of a data file for indirect identifiers that could be used in combination to attempt to re-identify (or "disclose") a respondent.1 Examples of indirect identifiers are personal characteristics such as gender, education, income, race, and ethnicity or organizational characteristics such as capacity, services offered, and programs for special populations.2 Disclosure analysis also involves assessment of external databases that may be used to link data.3
A critical factor in disclosure analysis is the availability of geographic data. In general, the more specific the geography, the more attention must be paid to disclosure risk. Geographic codes immediately narrow the search for a specific record to the lowest level of geography on the file. Finding a record within a known city is easier than finding a record within a known State, for example.
Also, analysts are often interested in subgroups of survey populations (e.g., pregnant women, racial minorities, and persons with health conditions). Yet characteristics that distinguish these groups are often the very characteristics that create disclosure risk. Disclosure protection techniques must take into account the key uses of the data and balance the trade-off between analytic utility and data loss. The analysis must include the impact on the data: What is lost and gained by the methods proposed? Which analytic capabilities are diminished? Which are preserved? How will the information lost affect data interpretation? Can the lost information be released in some other way?
Application of Disclosure Techniques to TEDS
TEDS data present a disclosure risk because they contain unique records. For analytic purposes, the Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA)4 and detailed race and ethnicity codes are also important to retain on the file. Thus, procedures are needed to ensure the protection of records that are unique within these detailed geographic areas.5
Disclosure protection methods include removing some of the uniqueness of records by re-coding variables such as age and education into categories. For the unique records that remained, a technique called data swapping is used. As a first step, data swapping involves identifying the set of variables that when taken together could potentially identify an individual. Next, a sample of the unique records is swapped with records taken from elsewhere in the file that match them on essential analytic variables. This process leaves the analyses of these variables unaffected. The following sets of variables are defined for purposes of data swapping in TEDS:
Unique key (the set of potentially identifying variables): Age, gender, methadone planned as part of treatment,6 race, ethnicity, pregnancy, and veteran status.
Swapping key (variables used to match unique records and deemed important to remain intact for analytic purposes): Race, ethnicity, sex, age, pregnancy, primary substance of abuse, and methadone planned as part of treatment.
Swapping attribute (the variable over which swapping occurs, typically a geographic variable): Matches were first sought within Census division, then Census region, and then across the entire file.
Protected variables: All other variables on the file.
The steps involved are:
Data swapping has several benefits over other disclosure protection options for TEDS:
Publicly Available Documentation of Procedures
To the extent possible, it is important that disclosure protection procedures be made publicly available so that analysts are aware of the changes to the data. The TEDS codebook details the protection procedures applied to the file, and includes an analysis of the impact to the data. TEDS is distributed through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive (SAMHDA). See the SAMHDA Web site at http://webapp.icpsr.umich.edu/cocoon/SAMHDA-SERIES/00056.xml for access to TEDS files and online analysis.
1Rather than applying simplistic techniques that would render the public use data unsatisfactory for key analyses or restrict the availability of the data, the application of disclosure techniques, in most cases, allows dissemination of a public use version of the data that is effective for most analytic purposes.
2Disclosure analysis typically focuses on attributes that can be known by an outsider (e.g., age) rather than attitudes or beliefs (e.g., feelings of sadness).
3Two files may themselves not contain disclosure risks, but contain a common identifier such as a facility ID that can be used to link the files, and thus create disclosure risk.
4TEDS includes codes for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), Primary Metropolitan Statistical Areas (PMSAs), and New England County Metropolitan Areas (NECMAs), all under the "PMSA" variable. The Census Bureau provides detailed definitions of these terms on its Web site: http://www.census.gov.
5For example, consider how a record in a given PMSA with the following characteristics would stand out in a file: Age: 25-29; Gender: Female; Methadone planned: Yes; Race: Native American; Ethnicity: Not Hispanic; Pregnant: Yes; Veteran: Yes.
6 All methadone clinics are federally licensed. Some sparsely populated states have just one or two licensed facilities, and the names of the facilities are publicly available. Therefore, knowing that methadone was planned as part of treatment could indicate the approximate geographic location of the client.
7For further discussion of data swapping see (1) Steel, P., and Zayatz, L., "Disclosure Limitation for the 2000 Census of Housing and Population," in Statistical Data Protection: Proceedings of the Conference, Lisbon, 25-27 March 1998, Eurostat, 1999; and (2) Reiss, S., "Practical Data Swapping: The First Steps," ACM Transactions on Database Systems, 9 (March 1984).
|The Drug and Alcohol Services
Information System (DASIS) is an integrated data system maintained by the
Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
(SAMHSA). One component of DASIS is the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS).
TEDS is a compilation of data on the demographic characteristics and substance
abuse problems of those admitted for substance abuse treatment. The information
comes primarily from facilities that receive some public funding. Information
on treatment admissions is routinely collected by State administrative systems
and then submitted to SAMHSA in a standard format. Approximately 1.6 million
records are included in TEDS each year. TEDS records represent admissions
rather than individuals, as a person may be admitted to treatment more than
The DASIS Report is prepared by the Office of Applied Studies, SAMHSA; Synectics for Management Decisions, Inc., Arlington, Virginia; and RTI, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Access the latest TEDS reports at:
Other substance abuse reports are available at:
|The DASIS Report is published periodically by the Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). All material appearing in this report is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied without permission from SAMHSA. Additional copies of this report or other reports from the Office of Applied Studies are available on-line: http://www.oas.samhsa.gov. Citation of the source is appreciated.|
This page was last updated on December 30, 2008.