updated 8/30/2004 9:50:50 AM ET 2004-08-30T13:50:50

The U.S. Census Bureau says it is ending a practice of routinely turning over detailed information about Arabs or other minorities to anti-terrorism officials without high-level approval.

The Census Bureau revealed Aug. 13 that it had been reporting demographic data about Arab Americans to a Homeland Security agency. The bureau said it only was providing population numbers and not names, addresses or other private details.

Responding to requests over the past two years from the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, the Census Bureau said it had provided files that included a count of U.S. residents of Arab descent in certain ZIP codes. It said names and street addresses were not included.

The release drew sharp criticism from some advocacy groups, which said it undermined the public’s trust.

Census Director Louis Kincannon said data requests from law enforcement and intelligence agencies now must be approved by one of eight associate directors, the second highest-ranking officials in the Census Bureau. He said the policy will not keep police from getting similar numbers in the future, mainly because much of it is already available on the bureau’s Web site.

But he told The Detroit News for a story Monday that it lets officials keep tabs on who requests information and how it is used.

“This is an important step in the right direction to restore people’s confidence,” said Imad Hamad, Dearborn-based Midwest director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “But in many people’s minds, the damage is already done. I only hope we can overcome this.”

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