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May 9th, 2011
The American Community Survey

From Daniel Freedman, a journalist who personally experienced the invasion of personal information by the government:

The ACS itself is a lesson in government overreach. Article 1 of the Constitution allows for a census every 10 years so that seating in Congress is proportional to state populations. Lawmakers gave the Commerce Department the power to ask more questions, and it took the power and ran, and ran, with it — ending up asking questions unrelated to districting. (ACS answers, according to its website, are to help “manage or evaluate federal and state government programs” — not to help with congressional seating.)

Even more invasive are the personal questions. The questionnaire asks how many people live with you and their relationship to you, along with their names, ages, gender, and race. Most creepy of all are the questions about your daily routine.

The ACS wants to know where you work, what time you leave for work, how you get to work, how long it takes you to get to work, and how many people travel with you.

Downright Orwellian. That was my first thought when I received the form. And initially I didn't quite believe that the government would demand such personal information and threaten citizens with fines (up to $5,000) if they don't hand it over. When friends, from Justice Department officials to university lecturers, heard about it from me, their first thought was that it was some kind of sophisticated mail fraud. After learning that the ACS was real, I reluctantly spent an hour answering the questions -- vowing at the same time to protest to my representatives in Congress -- and dropped the form in the mail toward the end of January.

A few weeks after sending in the form, a representative of the ACS left a note at my apartment asking me to contact her. When I did, she said she'd like to come to my apartment to go through the questions. I replied that I'd already filled out the form, and if they'd lost it, it was their duty to find it. I also didn't want a stranger entering my home and asking personal questions (and ones that I'd already answered), I told her.

The ACS representative ignored my comments and later turned up twice unannounced at my apartment, demanding entry, and warning me of the fines I would face if I didn't cooperate. I cited the Fourth Amendment ("The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches..."), and reiterated what I told her on the phone. After that, on March 14, I sent a letter of complaint to her regional director.
My saga ended on March 23 when an ACS program supervisor investigated my case and discovered my form had in fact been received on February 8, only it was sitting on the side and never processed.

 

CLICK HERE to read the entire American Community Survey.


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