Accusing the U.S. Census Bureau of “stalking” and “harassment” against dozens of Americans, officials with the Rutherford Institute have asked the federal agency to explain how its “American Community Survey” questions related to information the government is authorized to request.

Or perhaps it should just stop sending out the forms with dozens of questions that demand information about fertility, martial history, utility costs, vehicles available and health insurance coverage, a letter to the federal agency says.

“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 W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.

“Indeed,” he said, “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.”

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 to crack down.

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A letter yesterday from Whitehead to Commerce Secretary John Bryson pointed out that the U.S. Commerce Department may actually be acting unconstitutionally by requiring Americans, under threat of penalties, to respond to such questions.

Whitehead asks that the government immediately stop distributing copies of the American Community Survey until it is revised “to include only questions on subjects covered by the census itself.”

He also said the Commerce Department needs to document that the information demanded is both “needed” and not available elsewhere.

And Whitehead said the agency should stop threatening Americans with fines and should instruct “all agents and employees that stalking, harassing behavior toward citizens will not be tolerated.”

Whitehead confirmed that his organization has received dozens of requests for help from people who are concerned both about the invasive nature of the questions as well as the “harassing manner in which census workers have carried out their duties.”

“Clients have reported to us appalling behavior by census workers … [including] peeking into windows, refusing to leave citizens’ homes when requested to do so, blocking driveways, entering closed gates into backyards, contacting neighbors and calling workplaces.”

The issue is that the census, while it is authorized by the Constitution, originally focused on only a handful of questions, primarily how many people live in the U.S. Now it’s grown, and in addition to the census authorized by the Constitution every 10 years, the government dispatches demands for information in its American Community Survey project every year.

An estimated three million homes get the demand for details annually – at a cost estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“The ACS is overtly expansive, asking questions relating to respondents’ bathing habits, home utility costs, fertility, marital history, work commute, mortgage and health insurance, among others,” the Rutherford Institute announcement said.

Whitehead noted that federal law provides for penalties for refusing to answer only if the inquiries “are within the scope of the complete census and [the government] publishes a determination the information requested is both needed and not available from other sources.”

“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,” the letter warned.

Members of Congress have stated that what can be required of Americans is the name of the respondent, the contact information, the date of the response and the number of people at the address.

During the 2010 Census season, the leader of the Constitution Party of Oregon recommended that people respond only to the “enumeration” part of the census and said the rest of it is the equivalent of an unpleasant medical procedure.

“The census has become some sort of involuntary colonoscopy,” said the statement at the time from Bob Ekstrom, the Columbia County chairman for the party. “With the 2010 A.D. census, the federal government has overstepped its authority. Citizens are balking at demands that they divulge all kinds of private information.”

Ekstrom said, “Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution gives us the legal directives regarding the Census. Anyone who is serious about their citizenship and committed to the defense of the Constitution against enemies, foreign or domestic, should willingly supply the number of persons from your household.”

But he added, “Not anything except the number of persons in your household.”

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.”

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