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Government Privacy United States Your Rights Online

Will Your Answers To the Census Stay Private? 902

Hugh Pickens writes "James Bovard writes in the Christian Science Monitor that Americans are told that information gathered in the census will never be used against them and the House of Representatives, in a Census Awareness Month resolution passed March 3, proclaimed that 'the data obtained from the census are protected under United States privacy laws.' Unfortunately, thousands of Americans who trusted the Census Bureau in the past lost their freedom as a result. In the 1940 Census, the Census Bureau loudly assured people that their responses would be kept confidential. Within four days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Census Bureau had produced a report listing the Japanese-American population in each county on the West Coast. The Census Bureau's report helped the US Army round up more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans for concentration camps (later renamed 'internment centers'). In 2003-04, the Census Bureau provided the Department of Homeland Security with a massive cache of information on how many Arab Americans lived in each ZIP Code around the nation, and which country they originated from — information that could have made it far easier to carry out the type of mass roundup that some conservatives advocated. 'Instead of viewing census critics as conspiracy theorists, the nation's political leaders should recognize how their policies have undermined public faith in government,' writes Bovard. 'All the census really needs to know is how many people live at each address. Citizens should refuse to answer any census question except for the number of residents.'"
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Will Your Answers To the Census Stay Private?

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  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <`moc.stiucricve' `ta' `ive'> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:51AM (#31610632) Homepage

    I got the census papers. Besides the obvious: what's your name, race and address there are no other questions. I can lie about race if I wanted to because it's saying which race you consider yourself to be part of. I'm not a US citizen, yet I consider myself part of one of the races on the list. If you're afraid you're going to be corralled up, you could do the same thing, say you are "Other" or whatever is closest to your skin color (African-American/Negro (yes that's one of the options on there) for anyone not-white and not-native american)

    All other questions (SSN, birth date, birth place) are not part of the census so if anyone asks they are not acting on behalf of the census office.

  • by Thinine ( 869482 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:54AM (#31610682)
    Perhaps in 1790 that's all the census needed to know (that and how may slaves you owned), but it's a far different situation now. Socioeconomic and ethnic data is important in determining the types of services various areas need and plays an important part in know just who an "American" really is. As an aside, the census had nothing to do with the Japanese internment during WWII. At most it made calculating the number of Japanese-Americans easier, allowing the round up to be more accurate. Maybe. Given how easy it is to separate people by obvious ethnic ancestry, the round up would have occurred any way. Besides which, it's not as if either of scenarios mentioned in the OP actually provided anything more than numbers. They didn't provide addresses, names, or any actual personal information. Merely the number who marked a certain ethnicity in a certain county. So yes, these people are still just paranoid.
  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:57AM (#31610742) Homepage Journal

    They say that they won't release your information for something like 85 years, but they do release aggregate data. In the 2000 census, there were complaints that it was possible to determine individual answers from the aggregate data because they were releasing data for very small areas. I think it was by Zip+4, which narrows typically narrows it down to fewer than ten houses.

    For me, I'm not concerned about the privacy, but I take offense at being asked to identify as being of a specific race. Whatever happened to the Great American Melting Pot?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:58AM (#31610756)

    Check out:

    The Census Bureau collects information and creates statistics. The actual answers are hands off.

    Title 13 was not around in 1940.

    Giving the security agencies statistical information about a particular group of people is no big deal. The information was probably out there already and public.

  • by Enry ( 630 ) <> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:58AM (#31610764) Journal


    1) Saying that census data will 'never be used against you' and 'are protected by US privacy laws' is nowhere near the same thing.
    2) The NY Times article about Arab Americans in each ZIP code was using publicly available data from the census. As with medical records, the data used by DHS was deidentified.

    So in the end, I have faith that the answers I give will stay private, though I understand that information that identify me as a community will be available - that's one of the points of the census!

  • Re:first post? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:05AM (#31610884)

    Thats about all the information it asks for.

    Age/Name/ethnicity and where you live. It doesnt ask ANYTHING else.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:14AM (#31611034)

    Question 7

  • by C0R1D4N ( 970153 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:21AM (#31611142)
    There is no longer a short form and long form. Now there is only one form, which is pretty much what the short form was. The long form has been replaced by the American Community Survey which goes out to roughly 3 million random people I think every year though it may be every other year. FWIW the census is a huge boon to our descendants for genealogical purposes. My mother is a professional genealogist and makes great use of the older census data to help people find their great great grandparents and whatnot.
  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:23AM (#31611190) Journal
    Do you have a single shred of proof for this or are you basically a Truther or Birther at heart, with nothing but paranoia to offer us?

    I refer you to this article [] from, wait for it, The American Conservative []. Read the last paragraph. Here is the relevant part:

    Such information could have made it far easier to carry out the type of mass roundup that some conservatives advocated.

    And while we're on the subject of rounding up people, here's a neat goodie [] to show the mindset of at least one "conservative" and how they value American freedoms.
  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:23AM (#31611200)
    OED: race: I.3.c: A genus, species, kind of animals.
  • Privacy Act of 1974 (Score:5, Informative)

    by ( 745855 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:29AM (#31611320) Homepage

    Yeah, we did a lot of crazy things in the 40's. Misuse of census data, treatment of japanese americans, tuskegee airmen.

    What the @ssholes who are spouting this propaganda forget is there ARE privacy laws in place to prevent misuse of data.

    It IS illegal to do now in ways it WASN'T then.

  • by LordKazan ( 558383 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:29AM (#31611332) Homepage Journal

    hate to reiterate the AC - but Ann Coulter did advocate this. The right has some serious reactionary pisspantses among its ranks these days.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:45AM (#31611632)

    I work in economics research, the Census is priceless data that propels all work in the field.

    Just remember: the Census releases counts only. At smaller geographic levels they release fewer counts and cap things like income data. There is no way researchers or anyone else can back who specifically lives where, even for the Arab-American zip code data. In fact you can get Hispanic population counts at the block level (about 4 sq. city blocks on average). They do release individual mico-level data, but only 5% and 15% samples with even more protection of geography. Their priority is equally to gather data and protect the privacy of individuals.

    Please consider these things before jumping to conclusions; it's not a sinister gov. organization but an invaluable public resource that should be protected from politics.

  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:59AM (#31611916)

    "Women used to be chattel, we had slaves, corporations had private armies that could kill striking union members with impunity, young children were forced to work twelve-hour shifts in factories and mines, American Indians were slaughtered by roving army units and bands of vigilantes, mob lynchings were commonplace, college was available only to the very rich, antibiotics and blood transfusion hadn't been invented yet, and so on. Heck, at the outset, only white male landowners could vote."

    Thanks for that People's History rant, but it isn't true.

    Women in the US were never "chattel", sure they couldn't vote for a while but they could own property, divorce, have a job, own land and pay taxes they sure got to pay taxes. The middle and upper class Southern woman all but pushed the Southern society into the Civil War and shamed the men into volunteering to go to war.

    Some states had slaves, some Indian Tribes had slaves, not everyone in the United States did and at the time many countries had slavery or serfdom.

    Corporations did hire some private security forces, they they weren't "armies" anymore than the striking workers were "revolutionary vanguards".

    Child labor sucked, no doubt about that.

    "American Indians were slaughtered by roving army units and bands of vigilantes". Sand Creek is the only instance of this where there was a real "slaughter" of civilians by "roving army units". In the course of the Great Plains and Southwest Indian Wars from 1859-1900 there were roughly 13,500 American Indian fighters and never more than 10,000 US Army and Marine Corps personnel in the theatre, in combat the casualty rates were about 1:1.5 in favor of the US Army. The Indian Wars were not great slaughters and its insulting to the memory of the soldiers and warriors who fought on both sides to call it that.

  • by danlip ( 737336 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:11PM (#31612186)

    A letter included with the census form states:

    “Federal law protects your privacy and keeps your answers confidential (Title 13, United States Code, Sections 9 and 214). The answers you give on the census form cannot be obtained by law enforcement or tax collection agencies. Your answers cannot be used in court. They cannot be obtained with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. As allowed by law, census data becomes public after 72 years (Title 44, United States Code, Section 2108).”

    is that good enough?

  • by cmiller173 ( 641510 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:18PM (#31612322)

    Perhaps in 1790 that's all the census needed to know (that and how may slaves you owned), but it's a far different situation now.

    Then amend the constitution to empower the government to collect more than an enumeration.

    Article I Section 2 - The House

    ... The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. ...

    Article I Section 8 - Powers of Congress

    ... To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

  • by sean.peters ( 568334 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:24PM (#31612454) Homepage

    The actual form can be seen online here. []

  • Re:first post? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:25PM (#31612476)

    You got a long form for the 2010 census?

    "However, for the first time since 1940, the 2010 Census will be a short-form-only census."

  • by xmundt ( 415364 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:31PM (#31612558)

    Greetings and Salutations,.
              You must be very, very young. I say this because youth is mostly self-centered, and, uncaring about history, family, etc. However, to answer your question, genealogy IS very worthwhile. As a following post points out, for anything from genetic questions to inheritance questions. Beyond that, and, perhaps more importantly, it can give a person a clearer perspective on their place in history, and how that might influence their lives today. That can be important in improving one's attitude towards reality today, and, perhaps, motivating them to change their actions. Also, it is very interesting to see family connections, and, to gather stories of our ancestors. As an example, a search of the family history of my Tai Chi instructor found that one of the folks in the current class was a cousin that he did not know about. While not the most important thing in the world, perhaps, it has provided many moments of amusement and positive energy since this came out.
              As another small example, a friend of mine discovered that her family tree in America goes back to well before the revolutionary war; that one of her ancestors had stood on the side of the Americans against the British and was named a "True Patriot" for that brave act. Because of this connection, she is qualified for a membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Is this important? Perhaps not world-shaking, but, it has brought some positive vibes and some increased pride to a very good person who is struggling very hard to survive in this challenging economy we are burdened with today.
                Perhaps now, your family tree is unimportant to you, but, , do not blithely dismiss it as being worthless for everyone. And remember...there is a good chance that one day YOU will be struck with the question "where DID my great, great, grandparents come from?" Without the vast resources of data provided by the Census, this question is a LOT harder to answer.

  • Re:first post? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:37PM (#31612662)

    Stupid Census.

    How exactly am I supposed to mark that "slave" checkbox while hogtied and kissing my dominatrix's boot? :-)

  • by CorporateSuit ( 1319461 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:00PM (#31613124)

    Please accept my apologies for impugning the memory of the racist thugs who stole an entire continent from its rightful owners.

    According to the traditions of human beings (especially the traditions of Native Americans): If you conquer it, you ARE the rightful owner. Take a history course NOT taught by a rabid "Your country sucks and I'm the only one to teach that!" evangelist, for once. Until 100 years ago, wars were fought for keepsies. Educate yourself on history to the point where you can exhibit a shred of empathy, rather than this 1-dimensional, self-righteous indignation. Then, perhaps, you can comment on the state and affairs of things that happened before you were born, and be taken seriously.

  • by rssrss ( 686344 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:01PM (#31613144)

    The constitution authorizes the Federal government to conduct a decennial enumeration of the people, but it also forbids racial classification of the American People. The Census Bureau has allocated one-quarter of the space on this year's census form to questions about race and ethnicity, which if not unconstitutional, are clearly contrary to its spirit.

    Question 9 on the census form asks "What is Person 1's race?" (and so on, for other members of the household).

    I will answer Question 9 by checking the last option -- "Some other race" -- and writing in "American." It is a truthful answer but at the same time is a way for me as an ordinary citizens to object to unconstitutional racial classification schemes.

    "American," was counted by the Census Bureau when it reported the results of the 2000 census. In fact, the number of people answering "American" grew from 12.4 million in the 1990 census to 20.2 million in 2000, "the largest numerical growth of any ancestry group," according to Wikipedia. "American" was the most common answer to that question on the 2000 census in four states and several hundred counties.

    It is a violation of the law to lie or to not answer a question on the census form, that is why I will answer question 9 with "American". Some people maybe tempted to check an inapplicable box. But lying in this constitutionally mandated process is wrong. Really -- don't do it.

    If you are not a member of an enrolled tribe, don't check Native American -- they won't count it.
    Cutesy answers such as "human" or 100 Yard Dash will not be counted by the Census Bureau.

    So remember: Question 9 -- "Some other race" -- "American". Pass it on.
    If you are hassled about answering American by the census bureaucrats or the ACORN minion who comes to your door, you have legal support for your answer:

    "In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American."

    Justice Scalia, concurring in Adarand Constructors v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200 (1995).

  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:05PM (#31613200) Journal

    There ain't no such critter. All "blacks" -- technically "Negroid []" in ethnology -- entered the Western Hemisphere from Africa (eventually), either brought as slaves early on (1400s - 1800s) or as immigrants later. African-American and Native-American doesn't refer to just U.S. people. The "American" part refers to all of North, Central and South America.

    "Native American" covers all ethnicities that were native to the pre-Columbian Western Hemisphere. Everything from Inuits up north down to the Mapuche of Chile and everywhere in between.

    Note that the form says to mark ONE OR MORE boxes. If you're a mix, feel free to mark it up. There's even an "other", write-in box.

  • by josath ( 460165 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:27PM (#31613652) Homepage
    Wait, you use a blog quoting the original article as a way to back up the original article? Hilarious.
  • Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act. Democrats were for continued segregation

    I mentioned neither Republicans nor Democrats. Progressivism, both big- and -small p versions, cuts across party lines: Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat.

    However, you're simply wrong about the major parties and the Civil Rights Act. Democrat LBJ pushed the 1964 Civil Rights act through Congress, after Democrat JFK introduced it, and a majority of both Democratic and Republican Representatives and Senators voted for it []. The split was strictly a North-South one. ("South", here, being states once under the control of the terrorist group that styled itself the "Confederate States of America".)

    Both Southern Democrats and Southern Republicans were opposed to it, and Northern Democrats and Northern Republicans, in favor. (Though a slightly greater percentage of Southern Republicans opposed the bill, and a slightly smaller percentage of Northern Republicans supported it, than geographically comparable Democrats.)

    I invite you to check your facts before you accuse someone of "Fail!" Because now you look like a total ass.

    If you mean "progressive" (small "p") as in describing an individuals' attitude or outlook, then yes. If you mean Progressives, as in the movement that's been around since the '20s and counts Socialists and Communists as ideological brothers then you, sir, are incorrect.

    You need to stop getting your history from Glen Beck, friend. The Progressive Era -- big P -- was from the 1890s to the 1920s, it didn't come into being in the '20s. And if you want to label Theodore Roosevelt a commie, well, good luck with that.

    The rest of your post is a class-warfare mini-rant along with the "social justice" and "economic justice" buzzwords that Progressives use as cover for the fact that what they propose is socialist/communist/fascist-style redistribution of wealth by a powerful central government.

    I just love the way that right-wing loons have started lumping communists and fascists together, despite the fact that one of the primary attributes of fascism was anti-communism -- fascism was the right's counter-move to the Russian Revolution. It's almost as much fun as the way they complain about people talking about class warfare, while promoting the actual practice of that warfare.

    And if you think socialism necessarily implies a powerful central government, you need to read this []. (And also have a look at this [].) State socialism is not the only form of socialism.

    It's capitalism that requires a strong government, to create and defend artificial property rights. Many socialists believe in a small government -- Marx himself, wrong as he was about so much, believed that under his philosophy the state would eventually wither away, unneeded.

  • One word: FRAUD (Score:3, Informative)

    by Eric Green ( 627 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @04:29PM (#31617072) Homepage
    The first U.S. Congress debated furiously over what questions would be asked on the first 1790 Census. Some members wanted to ask detailed questions about housing and wealth. Others wanted a simple count. In the end, one word kept coming up over and over again: FRAUD. The Census would be used to divvy up the House of Representatives, and would also be used to apportion taxes amongst the states. So there was big money involved, and much incentive to overcount or undercount.

    In the end, the first U.S. Congress decided on one central principal of that first census: VERIFIABILITY. Each household would be associated with a specific district or ward. Each household would be identified by the name of its head of household. Each household would be thus be able to be visited by Census Bureau verifiers who could verify that the census as reported by the local judicial district was actually accurate. If the roster you got back from the 3rd Ward of Virginia said there was a Howard Mathers in district 3 who had one male, one female, and two children living in his household, you could go to district 3, ask around for Howard Mathers, and verify that he actually had four people living in his household.

    The 1850 Census occurred at a time when representation was especially important because the South had already made secession threats and was threatening to inflate their Census counts in order to gain more representation in Congress. In addition, the population had grown such that it was possible for there to be two heads of households with the same name in a judicial district. So the 1850 Census was the first to require not only the name of the head of household, but the names and ages of all members of a household too, which allowed Census workers to uniquely identify which of the households headed by Howard Mathers that they were actually talking to. Census Bureau checkers could then come behind and not only locate the Howard Mathers who had five children listed below his name (as vs. the childless Howard Mathers), but if Howard replied that he only had four children, they could verify which of the children was missing and ask, "What about Jeffie?" At which point Howard says, "Never heard of him", or Howard says, "Oh, yeah, I forgot, he hadn't moved out yet then," or Howard says, "He was living with Aunt Mahoney over in the 5th ward at the time" and the verifier can then update the count accordingly.

    So that, in a nutshell, is why the Census has asked for at least the name of the head of household ever since the very first census in 1790 -- it's all about verifiability.

    Disclaimer: I worked for the Census Bureau as a contract verifier in 1995 during the Census Test that was validating the forms and procedures to be used during the 2000 Census. And yes, I did find inaccurate data in places, generally from people the original census takers could not find or the original census takers misread an address and put one family at an address they didn't live at while missing the family who actually lived in that address. Verifiability allowed us to correct these errors. Without verifiability, you're stuck with the same nonsense that is computerized electronic voting, where you can never validate that the data actually corresponds to real physical people rather than just being an artifact of computer bugs or hacking...

Reactor error - core dumped!