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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 Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:52AM (#31610654)

    The real question is, does it matter? Ok, so census data is kept secure. What about every other form you've filled out that asks the same questions, or similar questions. Or just plain ol Google datamining?

    What difference does it make if this data over here is locked up tight when this same data over here is plastered all over the interwebs?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:53AM (#31610664)

    Of course the government could abuse that information, but what is the record like? Besides 1940, are there any other situations where the data was used to locate an individual? The 2003 situation mentioned is not an abuse. Providing demographic information is standard operating procedure for the Census Bureau, and a lot of good can be done with that information.

    So if 1940 is the only case of census information being used to locate individuals, I'd say their record is pretty good.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:53AM (#31610672)

    Compare and contrast these "concentration camps" with the Nazi version of "concentration camps".

    Germans were soundly rounded up as well. I think the Italians got a free ride in WWII, and God only knows where the Irish were sent. Dubuque, I heard.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @10:59AM (#31610774)

    I'm white, but i'll see myself as Hispanic or african-american and record that on the census then, recognize a lower income etc, and anon encourage all the people living in my state to do the same.

    That way we'll get more funding right? Since there will be more "lower income" families in the area, and they'll all be minorities (on paper).

    Not that i'm about to do it... but just a thought....

  • by berashith ( 222128 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:01AM (#31610826)

    Actually, even Jefferson in the first ever census saw the value in obtaining extra information. He pushed for more than just number of people, although that was the doctrine provided by the constitution. Were his motives pure evil? I doubt it. Government has reasons for what it does, which often conflict with the citizens best interest ( real or perceived ) and has always pushed the limits on every process that has been available, even the super-freedom-loving-and-creating-founding-fathers.

    I gave them my address and number of residents.

  • Re:first post? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:02AM (#31610830)

    White Male, 30
    I don't have anything to worry about right?

    Depends. Are you communist, libertarian, atheist, gun-clinging fundamentalist Christian, or Irish?

  • by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:02AM (#31610834) Homepage Journal

    I didn't give them any information to leak or misuse. The constitutional purpose of the census is to count people, not to figure out who rents vs. who owns their homes, or what their age/race distribution is. So that's what I gave them. A complete and accurate count of the people living in my home.

    Per Title 13, they could fine me $100 for failing to complete the form. I don't think that'll happen, but it's worth $100 to me to stand on the principle.

  • by coolmoose25 ( 1057210 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:06AM (#31610892)
    Census data always becomes public... According to this [] census data becomes public after 72 years. This is an invaluable resource to those tracing their genealogy. I will be filling out my form fully, but then I'm not an illegal immigrant or a terrorist. I could see why someone in those groups would not want to fill it out. But filling them out provides valuable data today for all kinds of things, from predicting how many students will enroll in your public schools to how many representatives you'll have in local, state, and federal elections.
  • "Bad" vs. "worse" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dazedNconfuzed ( 154242 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:07AM (#31610918)

    Compare and contrast these "concentration camps" with the Nazi version of "concentration camps".

    Ah, so we're to compare and contrast "stripped of all worldly possessions and incarcerated for no wrongdoing whatsoever", vs. "stripped of all worldly possessions and incarcerated for no wrongdoing whatsoever, plus torture & death". OK, so one is bad and the other is worse - that does not relieve the former of being bad.

  • I've got it! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:17AM (#31611084) Homepage

    Since we're facing a real possibility of insurrection from the tea party secessionists, let's encourage them to refuse to answer the ethnicity question on the census. Then we can do a sort for all those who've failed to answer that question, and march 'em to the FEMA camps!

    Is Beck a double agent?

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:29AM (#31611326)

    American Male, 39.

    And that's ALL the information they are getting out of me.

    If you think that writing in ___American in the other box offers any protection at all, you should remember the group of people who coined this idea. Between Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and friends you can guarantee that you're going to be categorized as 'Angry White Person'. When they start rounding up 'enemies of the state' who do you think they're going to target first? Bleeding heart leftists who are 'on the team' and 'fired up' or the angry white people who have been classified as a 'clear and present danger' to the commonwealth of the USA? You're better off marking anything OTHER than ___American on your census report. It's going to be dirt simple for the whitehouse to collect a report on where all the angry white people live, and by simple supposition, gerrymander all the lines to ensure you'll never have a chance of getting more angry white people elected in the future.

  • by SnarfQuest ( 469614 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:30AM (#31611360)

    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)

    Ok, I've always wondered. What if you are black, and didn't come from Africa? Do you lie and say you came from Africa, or do you tell the truch and pick some other option?

  • by D Ninja ( 825055 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:34AM (#31611440)

    What the hell has happend to us as a country? Has it always been this fucked and we just have the means to know about it now? Or were things truly better back int he day?

    This quote reminds me of a skit I saw on The Daily Show. Jon Stewart showed various clips of people saying, "Life today is not like it was when I was a kid." Stewart than proceeds to look at each decade and ends up showing that every decade had some screwy problems. As the conclusion, Jon Stewart commented, "So...if all the previous decades were screwed up, what is it that made [those people] say that life was better?" He concludes that it was because those individuals were CHILDREN during those decades. As a child, we're protected from a lot, we don't have critical thinking and reasoning skills that is obtained in early teenager-hood, and we don't have to fend for ourselves (of course, this is not always true for some children, unfortunately).

    So, your statement probably comes from the same spot is my guess. Of course, I don't know how old you are, but my guess is that your "back in the day" involves some time in your early, childhood/teenager years when you really have no worries, no mortgage, no taxes, don't have to worry about your next meal, or whether you'll have a job, haven't been jaded by bad relationships, and your hardest decision is what sugary cereal to eat in the morning.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:38AM (#31611504)

    Skin color is about as much use as eye color or hair color, except to racists.

    The medical community would tend to disagree. Ethnicity is highly correlated to certain distributions of certain diseases within said ethnic group.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:40AM (#31611542)

    I heard about one group of POWs who escaped in Minnesota and rode down the Mississippi river. When they were recaptured they were shocked to discover they not only hadn't escaped America they hadn't even made it out of the state. They were used to Europe which is a lot of fairly small countries right beside each other and a few days travel could get you over a border somewhere.

    And locking up 3/4ths of the people in Wisconsin isn't a bad idea in general anyway.

  • Re:I agree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LordKazan ( 558383 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:42AM (#31611578) Homepage Journal

    Ever heard of a white person with Sickle-Cell Anemia? (yes i know it can happen, not very likely)
    How about a black person with melanoma? (yes i know it can happen, not very likely)

    Just because you don't know the beneficial to harmless uses of the data doesn't mean it must be "omg bad!".

  • by AP31R0N ( 723649 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:52AM (#31611788)

    What does the gov't actually know about you... personally, that they should not? i don't mean "if you have nothing to hide". But seriously, what do you think they know about you personally that they shouldn't?

    We don't have privacy in the same way we did before, but now we have another kind: You're irrelevant. The government doesn't give a shit about you personally. You're a number in a database. An ant on the ass of an elephant. They care as much about you as you care about the mites living on your eyelashes.

    For one thing the gov't isn't one thing. It's a jumble of agencies that kinda sort connect. But they aren't piling data on *you* and comparing notes (unless you are interesting). Chances are you are not interesting. They don't have the time, money, assets or INCLINATION to do so. Plus, most of them don't want to go to jail. Unless there is a seriously bored GS-6 who passes the time by seeing that you haven't been to a library in five years but go to church on the big three.

    It's supremely ego-centric/vain/paranoid to think anyone at the gov't to coalating piles of data on *you*.

    Unless that's what they WANT us to think!

  • Race (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @11:54AM (#31611826)

    I for one will be checking "other" and entering "European American" no offense to other races intended. I just plan on receiving the same recognition for my heritage as you do yours.

  • by Reber Is Reber ( 1434683 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:03PM (#31612014) Journal
    US Law only requires that you enter the amount of people living at your residence. The census does NOT require you to enter anything beyond that. If you are dumb enough to enter your phone number, race or anything else and expect it not to be used against you in some way, then it is your own fault. Seriously, it's like signing up for a website online - they may ask you to enter personal information even though it is not required. You don't see me complaining about those websites asking for my phone number (or anything else that is personal,) and then getting mad when they call me. I deserve the invasion of privacy because I was stupid enough to provide them with my number in the first place. Instead I just don't enter my phone number. Most of the time they don't required that field in the first place; if it is required I would either make it up, or just not sign up.

    People that think the government is not going to use this information in some manner are living in a hole. It's the government this is what they do, move on and stop being so naive and think before you blindly fill out anything, because trust me, it is going to be saved and sometime down the road it may, this is not me saying it will happen, but it MAY be used against you.

    Be smart, enter the amount of people living at your place, and mail in your census. Problem solved.
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:03PM (#31612022) Homepage Journal

    Speaking as a livestock breeder, your pedigree (which is to say, genealogy) may be the only clue in tracking down a genetic disease and perhaps the major clue in finding a cure.

    And if you know your family is at-risk as carriers of some lethal defect, it provides the data you need so you can purposefully marry an outcross (unrelated person) to reduce the chance of producing dead children.

    Also, it can be interesting for its own sake to know where you came from, especially since personality traits are as much inherited as are physical traits.

    Much more rarely, your genealogy may determine that you are due, say, an inheritance. Turns out that courtesy of an ancestor 6 generations back, I'm an heir to a Welsh castle (no kidding, I am) -- if only I care to pay the back taxes on it!

    BTW the census bureau does have a policy of not releasing much of this info until after the people are dead, which is why genetic studies usually need to do their own footwork.

  • I'm an Immigrant (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheSpoom ( 715771 ) <> on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:04PM (#31612036) Homepage Journal

    Uncle Sam already knows this and much, much, much more about me.

  • Re:first post? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:08PM (#31612108) Journal

    Libertarian, 2nd Amendment Loving, Fundamentalist (but not xian), Mostly Northern European Mutt Mix.

    I'm Libertarian, because I don't want people telling me what gun I can or cannot own, What religion I can or cannot belong to, and my heritage is such a mix I have no allegiance to any nationality except Constitutional US of A (which has long since been whittled away).

    I don't like big government, big corporations, and big unions. I don't like people who make policies based on things like race, color, creed, political affiliations, sexual orientation, martial status, income level.

    But hey, I'm a radical "right winger" (except those pesky left wing libertarian ideals, like not liking the Patriot Act)

    I want liberty and justice for ALL. LIBERTY and justice. I value Liberty above all.

  • Re:Not this again... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mab_Mass ( 903149 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:09PM (#31612148) Homepage Journal

    Give it rest guys. Your claims don't stand up to a moments dispassionate scrutiny. The interment camps were nearly seventy years ago. We've learned since then.

    Let's hope you're right. Personally, I still wonder if one of the reasons that it hasn't happened since is that there hasn't been the same scale of war since then.

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:09PM (#31612150) Homepage Journal

    Haha, that's the best point ever. Indeed, that's why they're supposed to live in their district. See how well THAT gets enforced... :(

    As it stands, the race/income demographics just get used for gerrymandering. So while the theory that it's for our benefit is good if applied by the good and true, in fact it winds up being used solely for the benefit of politicians' election campaigns.

  • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @12:34PM (#31612606) Homepage

    Different skin colors usually mean different race, which usually means minor differences in physiology, which may mean different types of medicine. If you think that's racist, then do so at risk of your own health.

    Also, turns out different hair colors are best served by different types of hair products. Don't know about whether eye color makes any physiological difference, but I'd be surprised if it didn't.

    Pretty much all external physical traits are related in some way to other physical traits, some of which may even influence the brain. Why is it that when that external physical trait happens to be skin color, people all of a sudden cry "racism"?

  • My biggest problem with the census is that the government is actively trying to include illegal immigrants in the process. My issue with that is that I don't want them counted. They have no right to vote and thus should have no influence on the number of congresscritters each state gets.

    This means that the congressman in California have a disproportionately small number of legal constituents whom they represent. It's pretty basic math.

    I don't care if the illegal immigrants don't have representation. They are illegal and don't deserve it. Is it racism to say that all permanent residents of the country should be here legally? I don't think so.

    I want to go to Canada but am restricted from doing so because of my criminal record. Hence, I don't go to Canada. I expect the same of everyone else in my own country.

  • Re:I agree (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 25, 2010 @01:46PM (#31614086)

    Seriously? How do you guarantee the "color-blindness" of government without measuring it?

  • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Thursday March 25, 2010 @02:06PM (#31614442)

    Judging inter-societal conflict and history through the same morality used to describe individual behavior makes for great righteous indignation, but poor history.

    Human history is a story of cultural migrations full of bloodshed. Every piece of land owned by a society was taken from another society. The Americas were full of warrior tribes and ethos... who were they fighting before the white man arrived? Cortes' invasion was successful because he started an uprising against the last warlike conqueror. Europe was invaded by (at various times) by the Persians, Moors, Goths, Celts, Romans, Mongols, and Turks. Egypt was conquered by the Assyrians, the Greeks, and the Romans.

    The European empires are just the most recent technologically and culturally advanced civilization to use that advancement for expansion. You may call it evil, but it is no less evil than any other successful culture.

    As for applying that logic to individual actions regarding your neighbors, well that's a whole different lecture on social contracts, and the difference between norms within a societal group and with other societies.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray