American Community Survey Invades Privacy

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Air Date: April 19, 2012

Host: Vic Eliason

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Many technological advances are being used in ways that can invade privacy, especially when American civilians can now be observed by tiny “drone” aircraft capable of taking high resolution video from overhead.

But in other ways, privacy is being jeopardized by the increasingly invasive questions being included in the U.S. Census, plus in selected households for surveys conducted every year. The Constitution calls for a census—counting people—every ten years, in order to determine how many representatives should be sent to Congress. It says nothing about collecting statistics about the details of our lives.

But since 1996, those receiving the detailed “American Community Survey” (whether or not it is a part of the ten year census) are told that it is “mandatory” to complete.

Questions are asked of all individuals in a household—perhaps as many as 12—about race, gender, relationships and other personal matters.

Other questions are very detailed, including those about housing, which ask for the date of original construction, date the individual moved into this property, the size of the property, information about sales of agricultural products from this property, how many separate rooms are in the house, how many are bedrooms, what this property could be sold for—all this just for starters on this one topic of housing.

The survey goes on and on and on and on with questions about each person in the household including:

How many hours did that person work last week?
Where did they work? (detailed address)
How did they travel to work?
How many rode together in a car or van?
What time did they leave for work?
How long did it take to get there?
What are the most important things done at work?
What is the total annual income from wages, salaries, commissions, tips, or self-employment income, royalties, estates, trusts, Social Security, SSI, public assistance, pensions, disability income, food stamps, or any other source?
Did they miss work in the past week?
Are they looking for work?
When was the last time they worked for even a few hours?
…and many other questions.

This must be repeated for each person listed.

Vic asked what all this information has to do with determining the number of representatives a state should have in Congress.

It is mandatory to complete the survey or be liable to fines and imprisonment. But attempts are being made to change that.

H.R. 931 – Which makes participation in the American Community Survey Voluntary was introduced over a year ago – March 3, 2011. This legislation presently has 61 co-sponsors, but is still sitting in two committees.

More Information:

To express your views about H.R. 931:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:
(202) 225-5074

House Judiciary Committee:
(202) 225-3951

House Judiciary Committee has relegated this to two of their sub-committees:

Subcommittee on the Constitution:
(202) 225-2825

Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security:
(202) 225-5727

Contact your own U.S. Representative and Senators

Congressional Hotline numbers:
(202) 225-3121 or
(202) 224-3121

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