Big Brother Wants to Know All About You: The American Community Survey

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“This
is Big Brother at its worst.”
~
Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX)

Over the past
several years, I have been barraged with emails from Americans expressing
their dismay over the American Community Survey, the latest census
form to hit randomly selected households on a continuous basis.
Unlike the traditional census, which collects data every ten years
and is now underway, the American Community Survey is taken every
year at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. And at 28 pages
(with an additional 16-page instruction packet), it contains some
of the most detailed and intrusive questions ever put forth in a
census questionnaire. These concern 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.

As one frustrated
survey recipient, Beth, shared with me:

When we
first read through the American Community Survey, we thought it
was an ID theft scam. I showed it to a lawyer friend of mine.
She had never heard of the survey and warned it could be a scam.
She said if she’d received this, she would call her congressman
and senator to find out if scams such as this were happening to
warn others. So I called Washington DC. They in turn told me to
call our senator’s office in my state – which I did. I was
referred to the Justice Department, who then referred me to my
county representative. When I called my county representative,
my call was shifted to a Census Bureau employee placed in their
offices to field questions about the survey. The Census Bureau
representative told me the survey was not a scam. She could not
tell me whether or not to fill it out, but said if we chose not
to, there could be hefty fines and jail time associated with not
doing so. She was no help at all and was evasive in answering
my questions.

As Beth found
out, the survey is not voluntary. Answering the questions is not
a polite request from the Census Bureau. You are legally obligated
to answer. If you refuse, the fines are staggering. For every question
not answered, there is a $100 fine. And for every intentionally
false response to a question, the fine is $500. Therefore, if a
person representing a two-person household refused to fill out any
questions or simply answered nonsensically, the total fines could
range from upwards of $10,000 and $50,000 for noncompliance.

While the penalties
for not answering are outrageous, the questions, as Rep. Ron Paul
(R-Texas) has said, are “both ludicrous and insulting.”
For example, the survey asks how many persons live in your home,
along with their names and detailed information about them such
as their relationship to you, marital status, race and their physical,
mental and emotional problems, etc. The survey also asks how many
bedrooms and bathrooms you have in your house, along with the kind
of fuel used to heat your home, the cost of electricity, what type
of mortgage you have, the amount of your monthly mortgage payments,
property taxes and so on. This questionnaire also requires you to
detail how many days you were sick last year, how many automobiles
you own, whether you have trouble getting up the stairs and, amazingly,
what time you leave for work every morning and how long it takes
you to get there. When faced with the prospect that government agents
could covertly enter your home and rifle through your personal belongings,
do you really want the government knowing exactly when you’re
away from home?

As if the survey’s
asinine questions and highly detailed inquiries into your financial
affairs weren’t bad enough, you’re also expected to violate
the privacy of others by supplying the names and addresses of your
friends, relatives and employer. And the questionnaire stipulates
that you provide such information on the people in your home as
their educational levels, how many years of schooling they completed,
what languages they speak and when they last worked at a job, among
other things.

Americans being
ordered by the government to inform and spy on your family and friends?
It’s not too far off from the scenario George Orwell envisioned
in his futuristic novel Nineteen
Eighty-Four
. “The family,” writes Orwell, “had
become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device
by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by
informers who knew him intimately.”

Granted, some
of the questions in the American Community Survey may appear fairly
routine. However, the danger rests in not knowing exactly how the
government plans to use this vast amount of highly personal information.
For instance, if the financial information you provide on the survey
does not jive with your tax returns, whether such a discrepancy
was intentional or not, could you be flagged for an IRS audit? Given
the increasing amount of collusion taking place between government
agencies in recent years, I wouldn’t rule it out.

Another concern
with this intrusive questionnaire is that it signifies yet another
inroad into the establishment of a permanent surveillance state.
Everywhere we look these days, we are either being watched, taxed
or some bureaucrat is placing another bit of information in our
government files. Now with the American Community Survey, the federal
bureaucracy is thrusting its expansive tentacles toward us in an
attempt to invade every aspect of our lives.

This survey
also hints at a dangerous wedding of governmental and corporate
interests – a merger that inevitably results in personal data collected
on hundreds of millions of Americans being shared with private corporations.
Needless to say, with the Obama administration poised to hire an
additional one million census workers, data collecting on American
citizens will be intensified over the next several years.

Clearly, this
is not what the Founders intended. As Article I of the U. S. Constitution
makes plain, the census is to be taken every ten years for the sole
purpose of congressional redistricting. The Founders envisioned
a simple head count of the number of people living in a given area
so that numerically equal congressional districts could be maintained.
There is no way that the Founders would have authorized the federal
government to continuously demand, under penalty of law, such detailed
information from the American people.

However, the
Founders did not anticipate the massive and meddlesome federal bureaucracy
we have today or the daily onslaught of media images and governmental
scare tactics designed to keep the modern American distracted and
submissive. Sadly, most Americans do not seem to care that their
freedoms are being whittled away or they see no point in resistance.
Either way, the reaction is the same: they submit to virtually every
government demand, including the highly intrusive and patently unconstitutional
American Community Survey.

Thankfully,
there are still some Americans out there who value freedom and recognize
that it is time to stand up and fight back using whatever peaceful,
nonviolent means are available to them. As Beth concludes in her
email to me:

As an American
loyal to my country, we have no choice but to stand against this
unethical intrusion into our lives. I have called and written
to many people. No response. No one seems to be listening. No
one seems to care. I intend to vote for those who do care.

March
5, 2010

Constitutional
attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send
him mail
] is founder and president of The
Rutherford Institute
.

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