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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Demands that Census Bureau Cease Requiring Americans to Respond to Lengthy, Highly Invasive American Community Surveys

WASHINGTON, DC — In a letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson, John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, points out that the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, may be acting unconstitutionally by mandating that, under penalty of law, Americans complete and send back the highly intrusive and expansive American Community Survey (ACS). Whitehead has asked that the Commerce Dept. either explain how the questions on the ACS relate to information the Census Bureau is authorized to collect or else cease administering the ACS altogether.  In recent years, the Institute has received a growing number of requests for help from individuals across the nation who have voiced objections both to the intimate and invasive nature of the questions on the ACS—which range from fertility and marital history to the cost of utilities and one’s ability to dress/bathe—and the harassing manner in which census workers have carried out their duties.

The Rutherford Institute’s letter to Secretary Bryson is available here.

“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, 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.”

Unlike the traditional census, which collects data every ten years, the American Community Survey (ACS) is sent to about 3 million homes per year at a reported cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, while the traditional census is limited to ascertaining the number of persons living in each dwelling, their ages and ethnicities, the ownership of the dwelling, and telephone numbers, 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 Census Bureau has stated that responding to the ACS is mandatory and that federal law imposes fines for failure to provide complete responses. However, Whitehead has determined that the ACS may be in violation of federal law in terms of its content, penalties imposed for noncompliance and the harassing behavior of Census Bureau employees. Consequently, Institute attorneys have asked that the Census Bureau immediately cease distribution of the ACS until it has been substantially revised to include only questions on subjects covered by the census itself. Additionally, in light of the many disturbing reports of Census Bureau employees peeking into ACS recipients’ windows, refusing to leave upon request, entering closed gates and backyards, and even blocking driveways, Whitehead has asked that all Census Bureau employees be instructed to cease any behavior toward ACS recipients perceived as stalking or harassing. 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.

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