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Proprietary and Sensitive Data

Proprietary data may be prepared by the USGS for other Federal agencies or may be received from private sources. In either case, proprietary data must be carefully safeguarded against disclosure in accordance with USGS standards for transmittal and storage.

Examples of Proprietary Data 

  • Data subject to a copyright. 

  • Data given or sold with a licensing agreement that limits distribution. 

  • Data sealed from release by a court order. 

  • Data collected as part of a cooperative agreement with an entity that limits the rights of distribution. 

  • Data obtained from outside the United States and governed by agreements with foreign governments limiting distribution. 

  • Data relevant to the Nation's security. 

  • Geologic and geophysical data, such as property maps, drill records, and reserve estimates; water data, such as production and use of water. 

  • Biological data, such as bird-banding and endangered species data, that are supplied by private persons and corporations to the USGS voluntarily, in accordance with proprietary terms of contracts and in fulfillment of submittal requirements set forth in the authorizing legislation of the USGS and related regulations. 

Note that data initially gathered under unrestricted distribution agreements may become proprietary (for example, through a court order). Furthermore, data initially identified as proprietary may have the proprietary status removed through expiration or negation of the original reason for the designation.


Examples of Sensitive Data 

  • Threatened or endangered species data, collected by the USGS that has not be generalized or aggregated. 
  • Energy and mineral resource assessments and mineral commodity reports that typically have significant economic implications are not disclosed or shared in advance of public release because pre-release in these cases could result in unfair advantage or the perception of unfair advantage.


Best Practices 

  • Proprietary data should not be accepted if they are not required to satisfy USGS needs.
  • Proprietary data should not be disclosed unless specific written permission is obtained from the individual or organization that furnished or commissioned the information or unless specific statutes require disclosure.
  • Wherever possible, environmental information should be freely available to all. Generally, this benefits the environment by increasing awareness, enabling better decisionmaking and reducing risk of damage.
  • In a small number of cases, public access to information can result in environmental harm. It should be recognized that in such cases, availability of information may need to be controlled; although the presumption remains in favor of release and any restrictions should be interpreted rigorously.
  • All data regarded as being sensitive should include a date for review of their sensitivity status, along with documented reasons for the sensitivity status. The date for review may be short or long depending on the nature of the sensitivity. Whenever a data provider receives an application for enhanced access to restricted data they should avoid assuming continued sensitivity and use it as an opportunity to revisit the determination.
  • If the data are to be restricted for distribution, then this should only be done to a copy of the data at the time of their distribution. Data should never be altered, falsified, or deleted from the stored record.
  • Documentation is essential for many reasons, and where data have been restricted or generalized it is important that that information is recorded as metadata that remains with the record.
  • Where data are restricted or generalized for distribution (such as the name of a collector, textual locality information, etc.) this should be documented by replacing with appropriate wording. The field should not be left blank or null.
  • There are extremely strong reasons not to restrict data on related collections (e.g., collector's numbers in sequence, collector's name, etc.), because of the restrictions this places on data quality/data validation procedures and the limits it places on the effectiveness of filtered Push Technologies.
  • Users of sensitive data should respect any and all restrictions of access that the data provider has placed on the data. If granted enhanced access to restricted information users must not compromise or otherwise infringe the confidentiality of such information.
  • Data providers should respect the needs of data users to have access to data and documentation in order to determine the 'fitness for use' of the data, and to ensure that analyses are robust and not misleading.


What the U.S. Geological Survey Manual Requires: 

The USGS Manual, Chapter 502.5 Fundamental Science Practices: Safeguarding Unpublished U.S. Geological Survey Data, Information, and Associate Scientific Materials provides requirements for safeguarding unpublished U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) science data and information, including unpublished deliberative and predecisional information, proprietary data and information, nonproprietary USGS data and information, and associated scientific materials (for example, physical samples).


The USGS Manual, Chapter 1100.2 - Editorial Review of U.S. Geological Survey Publication Series covers the publication of sensitive information.

"Regardless of other editing requirements, any publication series information product that contains sensitive issues, including those having implications related to current policy or involving matters of national interest, hazards, security, or potential commercial gain, should receive a comprehensive edit at the discretion of the Science Center Manager or Bureau Approving Official."



Page last updated 1/2/24.