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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Issues Final Warning to Census Bureau Over Forcing Americans to Complete Highly Invasive Surveys Unrelated to Census

WASHINGTON, DC — John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, has issued a stern warning to the Census Bureau that Institute attorneys are prepared to challenge the American Community Survey (ACS) as an unconstitutional overreach by the agency on behalf of a large number of clients who object to being forced under penalty of law to complete the highly intrusive and expansive questionnaire. Whitehead’s warning comes in response to a letter by Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, in which the agency head justified the ACS as providing information “that can be useful to private industry, and private entities”—a justification, noted Whitehead, that will not pacify the countless individuals who have voiced their objections to the intrusive questionnaire, as well as the harassing tactics of Census Bureau workers.

Whitehead’s letter to Groves is available here.

“There is no way that those who founded this country would have authorized the federal government to incessantly or perpetually demand, under penalty of law, such detailed information from the American people,” said Whitehead. “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 overly expansive, asking questions relating to respondents’ bathing habits, home utility costs, fertility, marital history, work commute, mortgage, and health insurance, among others.

In recent years, The Rutherford 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 and the harassing manner in which census workers have carried out their duties. In January 2012, constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead called on the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, to 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 response, Robert Groves explained that the authority to carry out the ACS was covered by a congressional directive to his agency to carry out a decennial census program and to “obtain such other census information as necessary.” Yet as Whitehead makes clear, in no way can the multifarious lines of questioning contained within the ACS be seen as relating to the main topic of the Census, which is a head count of the populace for the purpose of congressional redistricting. Whitehead goes on to point out that the ACS far exceeds the frequency and limited range of questions authorized by the Constitution, Congress or the courts. It also contains some of the most detailed and intrusive questions ever put forth in a census questionnaire and requires Americans to inform and spy on family and friends. Most critically, argues Whitehead, the government has no right to require American citizens to complete highly intrusive questionnaires whose data will be shared with and used by private industry and entities.


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