- Written by Katharine Russ
09 Oct 2012
RUSS REPORT - Like clockwork, every ten years, the Census Bureau begins the task of acquiring and recording information about the national population. According to the United States Constitution, a decennial census is mandated every ten years and the results are used to allocate Congressional seats, electoral votes and government program funding.
While every person is aware of the duties of the US Census and the need to “count” America’s population, very few people, however, are aware of the American Community Survey (ACS) sent by the US Commerce Department to 3.5 million “randomly selected” addresses each year mandating participation in the survey.
Past Congressional candidate (District 30), Mark Reed provided a copy of the ACS he had received from a resident. Reed not only felt the survey was invasive but also a violation of the rights of those who shared the same home.
Reed said, “I have never seen anything like this in my life. Since when does the government need to know how anyone bathes and dresses themselves, their fertility status, marital questions, when they leave their home, where they work, where their home is mortgaged or what utilities they pay? No one should be mandated under penalty of law to answer such highly personal questions- let alone be forced to violate the privacy of others by answering questions that are not their business to ask.”
The 2012 survey is 28 pages long with three columns of questions on each page and comes with 16 pages of instructions. The person completing the survey must include information on every person living in the house, or apartment, regardless of their relation to each other.
Steven Jost, Associate Director for Communications, for the Census Bureau said, “The ACS is the current version of what was formerly known as the Decennial Census Long Form. Our authority to ask these questions, many of which have been asked since the first census in 1790, extends from both our Constitutional authority in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, as well as Title 13 of the US Code. Most of the questions on the form are asked to comply with federal statutes or regulations. The subjects on the form were submitted to Congress for review in 2007, and the actual questions were submitted to Congress in 2008.”
Beginning in 2003, the Census Bureau expanded the ACS, nationwide, as part of its decennial census in order to move from a once-every-ten years activity to continuous data collection and data dissemination. With each new version, more questions are added to the survey.
The Rutherford Institute, founded by constitutional attorney John Whitehead, was one of the first to address the invasive ACS as far back as 2004 calling it “asinine with highly detailed inquiries about a persons financial affairs.” He noted, “While some of the questions may seem to be fairly routine, the real danger is in not knowing why the information is needed or how the government will use it.”
Title 13, US Code states, “In advance of, in conjunction with, or after the taking of each census provided for by this chapter, the Secretary may make surveys and collect such preliminary and supplementary statistics related to the main topic of the census as are necessary to the initiation, taking, or completion thereof.”
But 13 USC § 193 does not specify which subjects or questions are to be included in the decennial census. And the Census Bureau is required to notify Congress of general census subjects it wishes to address three years before the decennial census and the actual questions to be asked two years before the decennial census.
The ACS is a monthly survey sent to 250,000 persons not every ten years, or decennially as noted in the United States Code.
Whitehead noted in a January 2012 letter to the Commerce Department, “We wish to emphasize our concerns that the ACS, when presented as ‘mandatory,’ poses a serious threat to citizen’s informational privacy, and thus is subject to Constitutional challenge. The right to be left alone has been characterized as ‘the right most valued by civilized men.’ By compelling responses to invasive, personal questions that go far beyond the type of census mandated by the US Constitution, the federal government is intruding significantly into the ‘zone of privacy’ the US Supreme Court has recognized as being protected by the Bill of Rights.”
Jost said there has never been an instance when a person who refused to participate in the survey had been fined or penalized by law.
“The Census and the ACS enjoy strong support from the American public. 97% of households in the ACS survey provide us with a response,” he mentioned.
The fines, according to Whitehead, were steep and would force the majority, against their will, to comply for fear of penalty.
“You are legally obligated to answer. If you refuse, the fines are staggering. For every question not answered, there is a $100 fine. And for every intentionally false response to a question, the fine is $500. Therefore, if a person representing a two-person household refused to fill out any questions or simply answered nonsensically, the total fines could range from upwards of $10,000 and $50,000 for noncompliance,” he said.
Jost maintains, “We do not share private information. All the information we collect on our surveys is protected by law, and can only be used for statistical purposes. The source of the information is made anonymous as we compile our data. Every Census employee takes a life time oath to keep the data confidential, which is punishable by 5 years in jail and a $250,000 fine if we violate that oath.”
Jost said that the ACS was “geocoded to a specific address” but asks for the names of all persons in the home in the event they need “follow-up” information. But Page 2 of the ACS says that information provided by recipients will be shared with public and private entities. With today’s technology, it’s not a “stretch” to think this information could not be compromised and that potentially millions of people could be put at risk for identity theft or other crimes.
Reed remarked, “Congressional authorization of such an invasion of personal privacy with this survey is a complete undermining of the Constitution and a direct move towards socialism. Every citizen should be concerned about this survey regardless of political affiliations.”
Whitehead’s letter of March 21, 2012 to US Census Director Robert Groves complained that the Commerce Department had never demonstrated any relationship between the 2010 Census questions versus those in the ACS and reminded the Director what the constitutional provisions of the census were. Whitehead copied the House of Representatives and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, among others.
On May 10, 2012, the House of Representatives passed the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013 that prohibits the use of funds to conduct the ACS (Sec. 551). On that same day, Senator Rand Paul introduced S.3079 in the Senate to make participation in the ACS voluntary, except with respect to certain basic questions, and for other purposes. The Bill was read twice and shifted to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs where it remains stalled.
If you have received one of these surveys and are apprehensive about the sharing information mandated by the Commerce Department, you can contact The Rutherford Institute at 434.978.3888 or visit www.rutherford.org for more information.
Vol 10 Issue 81
Pub: Oct 9, 2012