The Rutherford Institute is expanding its fight against the federal government’s American Community Survey, a list of privacy-invading questions sent to some 3 million homes every year with instructions that answers must be provided under penalty of law.
The questions ask for details about mortgages, marital histories, bathing habits, utility costs, telephone numbers and other personal issues.
“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 United States Constitution, the federal government is intruding significantly into the ‘zone of privacy’ the United States Supreme Court has recognized as being protected by the Bill of Rights,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.
“Indeed, the American Community Survey contains some of the most detailed and intrusive questions ever put forth in a census questionnaire, concerning matters that the government simply has no business knowing, including a person’s job, income, physical and emotional health, family status, place of residence and intimate personal and private habits.”
His organization has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Office of Privacy and Open Government demanding to see documentation related to whether the Census Bureau has the authority to require consumers to answer.
Whitehead earlier sent a letter to the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, asking officials to explain how the expansive questions on the ACS can be justified in light of the limited information the Census Bureau is authorized to collect.
He said that in recent years, his organization has received a growing number of requests for help from individuals who have voiced objections both to the intimate and invasive nature of the questions on the ACS and the harassing manner of Census Bureau workers toward consumers.
The traditional census, which collects data every 10 years, generally asks about the number of people living in the dwelling, their ages, ethnicities and ownership. Its goal is to count heads so that the U.S. House of Representatives can be properly allocated.
But Whitehead said the expanded ACS covers many details that consumers believe the government has no right to obtain.
While the Census Bureau has stated that answering ACS questions is required and people can be fined for not complying, the Rutherford Institute says the survey may be in violation of federal law in terms of its content, penalties imposed for noncompliance and the harassing behavior of Census Bureau employees.
The previous request was for the government to stop distributing the forms until they have been revised to include only authorized questions.
Additionally, Whitehead has been working with citizens who have complained that Census Bureau employees have been peeking into their windows, refusing to leave when requested, even blocking driveways and other such “harassment.”
He said he’s asking the federal government to stop such behaviors.
In the past year alone, the institute received complaints from 72 individuals who voiced objections both to the contents of the ACS and the harassing manner in which census workers have carried out their duties.
WND has reported on periodic efforts by members of Congress to rein in the invasive questions from the government, including last year’s call by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas to crack down.
“The Rutherford Institute is prepared to pursue this avenue on behalf of a large number of clients if necessary to ensure that the Census Bureau ceases its current practices,” Whitehead’s earlier letter warned the government.
Members of Congress have stated that what can be required of Americans is the name of the respondent, contact information, the date of the response and the number of people at the address.
In 2007, when the American Community Survey portion of the Census Bureau’s responsibilities were under way, spokesman Clyve Richmond told WND, “The Census Bureau has never prosecuted anybody [for not answering]. We try to work with people and explain how useful the information is.”