Definition: Sensitive variables

Statistical methodologies

Variables contained in a data record apart from the key variables, that belong to the private domain of respondents who would not like them to be disclosed. There is no exact definition given for what a 'sensitive variable' is and therefore, the division into key and sensitive variables is somehow arbitrary. Some data are clearly sensitive such as the possession of a criminal record, one's medical condition or credit record, but there are other cases where the distinction depends on the circumstances, e.g. the income of a person might be regarded as a sensitive variable in some countries and as quasi-identifier in others, or in some societies the religion of an individual might count as a key and a sensitive variable at the same time. All variables that contain one or more sensitive categories, i.e. categories that contain sensitive information about an individual or enterprise, are called sensitive variables.
Source:
ESSNet SDC (Network of Excellence in the European Statistical System in the field of Statistical Disclosure Control), under the coordination of Anco HUNDEPOOL, "Handbook on Statistical Disclosure Control", version 1.2 (2010 Edition)
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