The Census and Their Crazy, Unconstitutional American Community Survey
I used to be skeptical of people who complained about Census workers coming to their door. What was the big deal?
I have just received the American Community Survey, which is a highly intrusive, utterly unconstitutional questionnaire sent out to random homes in America. Supposedly the survey is to be used to help decide "where new schools, hospitals, and fire stations are needed." But why does the federal government need this information? Deciding where schools and hospitals are needed is the job of the city, county or state.
So, somehow, in order to figure out where to put schools and fire stations (as if a perusal of the Google Maps couldn't just tell you were a fire station might be needed), they need to know all sorts of personal, intimate details of the lives of everyone at the residence, including: what time a person leaves for work in the morning, what type of Internet service they subscribe to, how much is paid in utilities, whether or not they have health insurance (and with whom), whether someone is blind or deaf, and details on everyone's love life by inquiring about marriages and divorces in the past year.
When they first try to get you to fill out the survey, they mail you a letter pointing you to their website. I didn't bother with this, because first of all, I wasn't sure I wanted to respond, and second, they promised to send a paper copy if the Internet form wasn't used. I wanted to be able to see all the questions at once before deciding to respond to not, and you need paper for that.
Eventually, the paper survey arrived in the mail. A very thick packet, it dwarfed the other mail. On the front you are greeted with the following in big, bold letters: YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW.
I could not believe my eyes when I opened this package and read the questions. They want to know my income, my employer (with address), and all sorts of financial information about myself and the property. They wanted to know about the health of people living in the home. For immigrants, they wanted to know the date of arrival into the United States and whether they spoke English or not (trying to collect data on illegal immigrants - ahem, excuse me, "undocumented workers" - perhaps?).
- a. How many separate rooms are in this house, apartment, or mobile home? b. How many of these rooms are bedrooms?
- At this house, apartment, or mobile home - do you or any member of this household own or use any of the following computers? (The checklist includes desktop computers, "handheld computer" and "smart mobile phone" among others.)
- a. Does this person have any of his/her own grandchildren under the age of 18 living in this house or apartment? b. Is this grandparent currently responsible for most of the basic needs of any grandchildren under the age of 18 who live in this house or apartment?
- How many times has this person been married?
- Because of a physical, mental, or emotional condition, does this person have serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions?
- Does this person have serious difficult walking down the stairs?
- When did this person last work, even for a few days?
- How many minutes did it usually take this person to get from home to work LAST WEEK?
I'm not the only one amazed at these questions. Here's a YouTube report on it:
Perhaps I should put the name of the resident cat down:
First name: Leo
Last name: Pard
Age: 4 years
Race/Ethnicity: Cat/light brown tabby
Occupation: Causing trouble
Time of waking: Random times throughout the day and night, ideally when most inconvenient to sleeping humans and accompanied by strident meowing
Length of commute: Short hop from cat tree to floor
Does this person speak another language other than English: Yes, he speaks cat
Does he have trouble walking down stairs: No, but sometimes he gets overly excited and falls off the bed when he rolls over the wrong way
On one level, it is easy to make fun of this survey, because it is so completely over the top and ridiculous, but on the other hand...it is quite unsettling.
I have been speaking out quite a bit about the growing police state, and a survey may not seem like such a big deal. But it's the first time intrusive government has come to my doorstep, and now it feels real of a sudden. Really real. Frankly, I'm a bit freaked out that this sort of thing is actually going on in America, and that people are going along with it.
Now, this survey is not new. It has been around since at least the mid-2000s. What I'd like to know is this: Has the survey been changed since then to become more intrusive, or are the questions the same? I'd wager a guess that at least some of these questions are new, such as the one about health insurance. What's next? Questions about guns? Assets? What banks you keep your money in? How much of a precious metals stash do you have and where is it on your property? How much extra food do you store?
One thing is for certain. I am not filling this out and sending this in. It is way too personal. It is none of their business. And I can't say I'm for personal privacy and then cave just because they are threatening a fine over this.
Apparently, however, the threats are mostly bluster at this point. There will be more threatening letters. And then the next step is probably a visit by some Census agents. I don't answer the door anyway to strangers, so I will have no problem avoiding them. I have half a mind to open the door and ask the hapless worker whether they would have likewise worked on behalf of the Stasi, just to get a paycheck.
I've now read quite a few online comments about this ridiculous survey, and how people have responded or not responded to it. So far my favorite response is this one:
Do what I did the last time I received one of those invasive information request. I took a black Sharpie and drew a big black mark where every answer was on the form that pertained to the information I was to fill out. I then included a printed note along with the form when I sent it in. The included note basically said the following “All personal and sensitive information on the response form has been redacted to protect my personal information. I used as an example the numerous forms that have been released by the US Federal Government reuested by the FOIA. Thank you and have a plesant day”
For some odd reason I have never gotten another form nor has anyone called about it.
Maybe it's also time to get a large, menacing dog.
P.S. If you'd like to respond to an intrusive Census request, you may be interested in this notice: http://censusthis.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/a-refusal-to-answer-the-questions-notice-to-the-census-bureau/