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Constitutional Q&A: American Community Survey

The Rutherford Institute is sounding a renewed warning against efforts by the government to amass extensive, sensitive private information about individual citizens and their households through its mandatory American Community Survey (ACS). Rutherford Institute attorneys have also formally lodged concerns over a proposal by the U.S. Census Bureau to expand the already exhaustive, invasive ongoing monthly survey to include questions about each household member’s sex assigned at birth, current gender (including transgender, nonbinary, or others), and sexual orientation.

For individuals alarmed by the U.S. Census Bureau’s efforts to collect and track private information about the citizenry, their home life and personal habits, The Rutherford Institute has made its updated “Constitutional Q&A: American Community Survey” guidelines available at The Institute has also provided a form letter of complaint for lodging objections to the ACS with the Census Bureau.

“In an age when the government has significant technological resources at its disposal to not only carry out warrantless surveillance on American citizens but also to harvest and mine that data for its own dubious purposes, whether it be crime-mapping or profiling based on race or religion, the potential for abuse is grave,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Any attempt by the government to encroach upon the citizenry’s privacy rights or establish a system by which the populace can be targeted, tracked and singled out must be met with extreme caution. The American Community Survey qualifies as a government program whose purpose, while seemingly benign, raises significant constitutional concerns.”

The American Community Survey (ACS) is a highly invasive, ongoing monthly survey issued by the U.S. Census Bureau to collect detailed housing and socioeconomic data from about 3.5 million households each year. The ACS requires recipients to provide the government with extensive and sensitive information about each and every person in their household, including their work schedules, their physical disabilities and limitations, the number of automobiles kept at the residence, and their access to phone-service and the internet. The information collected by the ACS is not anonymous: the survey is to contain the name, age, sex, race, and home address of each person at the residence, along with the phone number of the person who fills out the form. There are so many questions on the ACS that it is estimated the average household will have to take 40 minutes to answer the questions. When people do not respond online or by mail, the Census Bureau repeatedly sends field representatives to their homes at unannounced times to harass and interview them until they answer the survey. People have reported that field representatives remained outside their houses for hours while waiting for them to arrive home or come out, have walked around their homes, and have talked to minor children when parents were away. The questions on the ACS are so invasive that many initially think the survey is a phishing scam to steal their personal information. Institute attorneys warn that the data collected and amassed by the Census Bureau through the ACS would be a goldmine for criminals.

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties organization, defends individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or violated and educates the public on a wide spectrum of issues affecting their freedoms.


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