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This study focuses on privacy issues related to record-linkage--a computer-based process that combines multiple sources of existing data. Federally sponsored linkage projects conducted for research and statistical purposes have many potential benefits, such as informing policy debates; tracking program outcomes; helping local government or business planning; or contributing knowledge that, in some cases, might help millions of people. Despite these benefits, concerns about personal privacy are relevant because linkages often involve data on identifiable persons. GAO describes (1) how record linkage can create new research and statistical information, (2) why linkage heightens certain privacy issues, and (3) how data stewardship might be enhanced.

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