Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
Another month is coming, and another 250,000 forms are being mailed out in the U.S. Census Bureau’s perpetual American Community Survey, which demands responses to personal questions about a family’s lifestyle, housing accommodations, work schedules, physical and mental disabilities, income and the like.
That means roughly 250,000 times recipients will see the warning that participation is required by law, and there are penalties including fines for not answering each question. But, in fact, U.S. Census Bureau officials say they’ve never had anyone prosecuted for refusing to provide those intimate details to the government.
Images used to publicize the perpetual American Community Survey
“The Census Bureau has never prosecuted anybody,” spokesman Clyve Richmond told WND. “We try to work with people and explain how useful the information is.”
As WND has reported, the U.S. Census Bureau switched from the surveys once every 10 years, called for in the U.S. Constitution, to annual surveys sent to three million households, to keep the government’s data more up-to-date.
The issue arises periodically about the invasion into a family’s privacy by the questions, including:
Does this house, apartment, or mobile home have COMPLETE plumbing facilities; that is, 1) hot and cold piped water, 2) a flush toilet, and 3) a bathtub or shower?
At any time DURING THE PAST 12 MONTHS, did anyone in this household receive food stamps? If so, how much?
Do you have a mortgage and if so, how much is it?
Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition does this person have any difficulty in doing any of the following: learning, dressing, bathing or getting around?
Has this person given birth in the last year?
What time did this person go to work?
How much did this person make in salaries? Interest? Retirement?
There are several Internet blogs where consumers sound off, including Survivalerts, where “Mark” submitted a copy of a letter to his state senator asking if he supported the survey, and “under what authority I am being required – under the penalty of fines – to give up my privacy under the Bill of Rights and be forced to give the Census Bureau information on my private life.”
“As a U.S. citizen (I know that really doesn’t mean anything anymore) I DEMAND THAT YOU REPRESENT ME and work with other representatives, state and federal, to abolish this outrageous ‘survey,’ which is nothing more than a Moscow-style attempt to gather information on citizens. The questions on this survey have nothing to do with the Census as outlined by the Founders – they are offensive, unconstitutional, and un-America.”
Mark told WND the government already has most of the information, through tax records, work records, and various accesses to utility records and the like. “All this information the government already has. They just want me to do the research for them,” he said.
But he also expressed concern about the security of private information.
“Sandy Berger could get this, put it in his socks and walk out with it,” he said.
And he objected to having the government collect his information and provide it to other private entities. The Census’ own documentation provides that the information is “made available to federal, state and local governments and also to the public. The data will enable your community leaders from government, business and nonprofit organizations to plan more effectively.”
“Walt,” wrote about how he’d been approached a number of times: “The ACS lady came by for her second visit around 6:00 yesterday afternoon. I happened to outside and greeted her at her car door – she never got out. I advised her that the owner or owners of the information she is seeking have not authorized it to be released…”
“Reasoning with a Census ‘field representative’ is like reasoning with a Jihadist. They believe what they are being paid to do is worthwhile, BUT cannot and will not do anything if you just refuse to play their game. Be polite if you wish. Frankly, I lost my cool and yelled ‘don’t talk about fining me, DO IT! You’ll get plenty of publicity!’” added “Scribe.”
While the prosecutions haven’t happened yet, the mailings, phone calls and door-knocking have, and will continue, Richmond said.
“We’ll get tired and go away eventually,” Richmond told WND. “But we might knock on your door a whole bunch of times.”
There are about 5,000 “field representatives,” who work not only on the ACS but other Census programs as well, available to call or visit those targeted by the Census, Richmond said.
“We are very persistent,” he said.
Richmond told WND the questions haven’t changed significantly since the 1980s or 1990s, and the government really believes there is a purpose behind the individual queries.
A departure time and location and destination, for example, tells road planners where to focus their resources, he said. Reports that some homes don’t have full bathrooms – having only a shower or something – could indicate a region of poverty, he said.
Besides the constitutionally required allocation of federal representation based on the Census every 10 years, billions of dollars in federal funds are allocated based on an assessment of survey responses, Richmond said.
He also said he understands concerns people raise about their confidential information and its potential uncontrolled release. He said that’s why federal government Census bureau workers are subject to fines and jail for releasing such information inappropriately.
“About the last year or so, we’ve been getting more and more of those concerns: people don’t want to respond. They just don’t believe the federal government or anyone can keep their information secret anymore,” Richmond said.
“We do safeguard it as well as we can,” he said, describing the process that allows information to be accessible only by those with clearance, and handled only by fulltime employees at the Census processing center in Indiana.
He said the information is stored in computers that are not even connected to the Internet.
But other critics pointed out that the Census letters are mailed through ordinary mail, and those who object should just ignore them.
Wrote Cathy, “Try to ignore them, they have no talking points for that. They don’t understand the right to privacy.”
“Well it has been about a month and a half. All seams (sic) to be over and I am not in jail,” added “Just Me.”