The federal government is forcing 3 million Americans to disclose sensitive, personal information about finances, health and lifestyle in a 14-page survey – including questions about availability of household flush toilets and difficulty with undressing and bathing.
The 2009 American Community Survey, an annual supplement to the decennial Census, asks about residents’ personal relationships and whether a home has hot and cold running water, a flush toilet, bathing facilities, appliances and phone services. It also asks how many rooms are in a home and what vehicles are used at each household.
The new questionnaire asks respondents what they pay for electricity, gas, water and sewer every month and whether residents receive food stamps.
Question 16 asks, “About how much do you think this house and lot, apartment, or mobile home would sell for if it were for sale?”
Respondents are required to disclose costs associated with rent or mortgage, annual real estate taxes on and fire, hazard and flood insurance expenses.
For each person in the household, the questionnaire asks for citizenship status, education level, whether that person attends private or public schools. It also features questions about health coverage, hearing and vision impairment and physical, mental or emotional conditions.
It asks if residents “have difficulty dressing or bathing” or “doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping” or whether they have difficulty making decisions. Respondents must indicate if they have served in the military, their current marital status and whether they have been married or given birth to children in the last 12 months. The Census Bureau claims its question is used as a “measure of fertility” and is used to “carry out various programs required by statute, including … conducting research for voluntary family planning programs.”
The letter asks where residents worked last week and whether they drove a car, rode a bus, subway railroad, ferryboat, taxicab or bicycle to get there. It then asks what time they left for work and how long their commute lasted.
Respondents are also required to disclose their place of employment, duties and income.
While many recipients may consider the questionnaire to be tedious and meddling, the Census Bureau warns that citizens are required by law to complete it and may be fined as much as $5,000 for willfully refusing. While an individual may feel uneasy about answering each question truthfully, the fine for filing false information can be as much as $500.
The Census Bureau estimates that the form takes an average of 38 minutes for each household to complete.
While the U.S. Constitution allows Americans to be counted for purposes of taxation and political representation, Jim Harper, a privacy expert at the Cato Institute, told the New York Post the survey is “a classic example of mission creep over the decades – this constitutional need to literally count how many noses are in the United States has turned into a vast data-collection operation.”
Rep. Ron Paul blasted the government for spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” on the survey and called the questionnaire “insulting” in his Texas Straight Talk column.
“The questions are both ludicrous and insulting,” he wrote. “The survey asks, for instance, how many bathrooms you have in your house, how many miles you drive to work, how many days you were sick last year, and whether you have trouble getting up stairs. It goes on and on, mixing inane questions with highly detailed inquiries about your financial affairs. One can only imagine the countless malevolent ways our federal bureaucrats could use this information. At the very least the survey will be used to dole out pork, which is reason enough to oppose it.”
Paul continued, “The founders never authorized the federal government to continuously survey the American people. More importantly, they never envisioned a nation where the people would roll over and submit to every government demand. The American Community Survey is patently offensive to all Americans who still embody that fundamental American virtue, namely a healthy mistrust of government. ”