Beware The Unconstitutional Census Long Form – American Community Survey

By Daniel T. Weaver

While liberals celebrated the Trump administration’s decision to not include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, they are oblivious to the fact that the question is included in the American Community Survey, what we used to call the census long form. Question 8 of the ACS is “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” Failure to answer the question can result in a $100 fine.

The ACS is sent randomly to about 3.5 million addresses per year. My house was one of the chosen ones this year. The envelope is addressed “TO THE RESIDENT OF” your address, not to you personally, meaning anyone residing in the house can fill it out. The envelope clearly states there are penalties for not filling out the form, and that you are required by law to do so.

The person in the residence who takes it upon him or herself to fill out the form has to answer 44 personal questions and the same number for each person residing in the house. There are an additional 24 questions about the residence itself. If you fill out the form, and there are illegal immigrants living in your house, you are required to answer question 8 in the negative, even if you live in a sanctuary city. The form is not anonymous, so the illegal immigrant’s name has to be listed at the top of the page. So there really isn’t much for liberals to celebrate.

American Community SurveyThe citizenship question doesn’t bother me, but many of the others do. In a country whose Supreme Court has ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion, I find it incongruous that the ACS asks (Question 29) “In the PAST 12 MONTHS, has this person given birth to any children?”

The right to privacy or the “right to be left alone” makes one wonder how the government has any right to ask any of the other questions on the ACS. I found some of the questions were innocuous. Others, however, seem downright intrusive. For example question 23, “How many times has this person been married? Or Question 19b, “Does this person have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?” Or Question 19c, “Does this person have difficulty dressing or bathing? And to make matters worse, in order to fill out this form, the person filling it out is required to invade the privacy of other individuals.

When I told the census worker who came to my door that asking for the number of people in a household was constitutional, but the ACS wasn’t, he said I was wrong. But then he also denied that question 19c was on the form, so I have little confidence in his opinion.

I do have confidence in the opinions of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, which has stated, “There are significant and legitimate questions concerning the authority of the government to require, under threat of prosecution and penalty, that persons answer questions posed by the ACS.” They go on to say, “In other contexts, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that citizens have no obligation to answer questions posed by the government and are free to refuse to do so. This same principle could apply to questions posed by ACS agents.”

Troubling also is that the data compiled by the government through the ACS is not just used by the government. It is also given to non-profits and corporations. Names are supposed to be redacted when the data is supplied to other organizations. But if hackers ever get into Census Bureau’s ACS database, they will have hit the jackpot for identity theft.

Big Data is Big Data whether its Google, Facebook or the Census Bureau collecting it. It is also an invasion of privacy regardless of whom is collecting it. Congress held hearings on the way big tech companies collect, use and sell our personal data, yet the government is in the same business. Congress  ought to also hold hearings on the way the Census Bureau collects, uses, stores and disseminates our personal data.

While the census in its short form, taken every ten years, appears to be constitutional, the census in its long form, the American Community Survey, does not.

The Rutherford Institute provides detailed information and advice for anyone required to fill out the American Community Form.

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