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back to article US census takers fight angry Americans for their data

The results from the US 2010 Decennial Census are guaranteed by the end of the year. However, those who collected it - called enumerators - already know quite a bit about the state of the nation. There's no good news. The census, conducted once every 10 years, hired a few hundred thousand Americans to collect names, ages and …

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WTF?

I'm forced to ask...

Just what sort of information were they asking for on the census that got your knickers in such a bloody twist?!

I seem to recall at the last census in the UK they didn't ask for anything too controversial? Of course there was the whole 'Jedi' thing which I can't decide if it was a rebellion against the ridiculousness of political correctness, or just taking the piss for the sake. At least it was an optional response, so if you didn't want the Government knowing, you didn't have to respond...

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Black Helicopters

How about...

Names, address, birthdays, income. I.E. the type of stuff that can be used for identity theft, and that the government already has from tax returns. This is the type of stuff I wouldn't, for example, post to an untrusted non-HTTPS secured website, so I can see why handing it out to temp workers might cause a little heartburn for some people.

Add in confusion about what is Constitutionally required (address and number of residents) vs. what is legally required (anything they want to ask other than religious affiliation) and FUD around the involvement of "nefarious" organizations (ACORN) in staffing the census this year and the brewhaha isn't really much of a surprise.

La Resistance has always been an issue for Census takers, just above average by some amount this time around.

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Left hand prohibited from talking to right hand

"Names, address, birthdays, income. I.E. the type of stuff that can be used for identity theft, and that the government already has from tax returns."

The Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of the Census (a part of the Department of Commerce last I checked) are legally prohibited from sharing that kind of stuff with each other.

Besides, you don't have to tell the enumerator any of that stuff as long as you've filled out the form, sealed it, and put it in the mail back to the BotC.

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Pint

Re: unitron

Not really disagreeing with you on any of that - I was just offering my $0.02 as to why people (some of whom I know) get all huffy about the census. Maybe it could be boiled down a little more to this: If the census is supposed to just be a statistical exercise, why are they asking for personally identifiable information instead of just raw/anonymous/generic data?

I'm not saying the people pushing back are right, but I think I understand some of their concerns. I have the same twinge, for example, when I go to setup a cell/utility/whatever account and they ask me for my Social Security number, or when I had to re-up my Security Clearance for work and the Background Investigation authorization form had a catch-all disclaimer for any/all liability - including information loss.

Maybe I'm just paranoid about identity theft (after all, the crazies never think they're the crazy ones right?) but when someone asks for my personally identifiable information I always consider: 1.) do they really need it, 2.) are they trustworthy, 3.) what are the consequences if I refuse, and 4.) what protection/recourse do I have if they lose/misuse it. Nowadays, as opposed to

I am sure that there are many people out there that think the census would fail all four of my questions: 1.) no they just need headcount, 2.) pick one... it's the government, they are temp workers, they could be "agents of ACORN", 3.) I can tell them to piss off and they won't do anything about it, and 4.) it's the government, so there is no protection/recourse.

Again, I'm not trying to argue that they're right - just that I don't think all the people resisting the census are *complete* lunatics/wingnuts... and FWIW I complied with the census.

Cheers!

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Personal info safe with the IRS?

HMRC has proved that it can't be trusted with personal data.

All the more reason to abolish income tax.

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Grenade

The real problem here

...is that nobody has bothered to explain to the census takers what their legal justification is. For better or worse, it is described here:

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode13/usc_sec_13_00000221----000-.html

Which basically says the census can ask you any question they want *other than religious affiliation* under threat of penalty of $100 for refusal to answer, or $500 for lying. That has nothing to do with the Constitution, which only asks that a headcount be taken... which is also the source of the misinformation/confusion around what is legally required.

So in short, Constitutionally speaking only the address/headcount question is required.... but other Federal law has introduced a catch-all to allow them to ask whatever the they want.

Given this is a common issue (2010 is not the first time there has been push-back against answering the census), the Census Bureau should be helping their temp employees out on this... maybe even give them pamphlets to hand out describing citizens' legal obligations.

That said, I am curious about the constitutionality of that catch-all (but religious affiliation) law - but until it's challenged and overturned in the courts or repealed by the Congress, the Census is correct in stating that you are legally required/compelled to answer the questions.

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Big Brother

Oh no lying is much more than $500

Given the Census falls under the executive branch, I think Title 18 Section 1001 covers it as well and the maximum of 5 years is much harsher and referenced section in Title 13 does not prevent being charged under both sections of law. In short, your only play is the Fifth Amendment when dealing with any government worker. Best leave it to the neighbors to fill in the blanks, they will have a much easier time as they can more easily give false information about you as it would be harder to prove it was knowingly and willingly false.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode18/usc_sec_18_00001001----000-.html

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Flame

I only answer the enumeration part

I only answer the enumeration part, the Race part is none of there buisness and there

is no way of verifying Race. Its not on most birth certificates.

The gov't has a need for the number of people, the rest is to just look at where they can dole out more of our tax dollars. I'll take the $100 fine to protest the obsesive intrusion by our government to push its socialist mentality of redistributing wealth and categorizing people to create more discontent in people.

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Anonymous Coward

The census bureau has it here

http://2010.census.gov/2010census/why/constitutional.php

As well as the 10 questions in the census

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Joke

If you take this post seriously, you deserve what you get...

"That said, I am curious about the constitutionality of that catch-all (but religious affiliation) law - but until it's challenged and overturned in the courts or repealed by the Congress, the Census is correct in stating that you are legally required/compelled to answer the questions."

Yes, but you can annoy the hell out of them by claiming that every single one of their questions other than the address/headcount questions give away your religious affiliation, and thus are both unconstitutional AND explicitly exempted under federal law covering the Census.

;)

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Flame

Fundamentally flawed

Ignoring the intrusiveness of the census, it remains a flawed scheme. It starts because the stated purpose is to apportion representation and the flaw is that it tries to count everybody. Most of you will say, "what's wrong with that?" Well, it counts people who can't vote and while it wouldn't be too difficult to determine who is ineligible there is no indication they try to correct the numbers after the fact.

If you can't see the flaw yet; in apportioning representation based on everyone and electing representatives based on voters it thereby over represents the voters who live in places where there are higher numbers of people who are ineligible to vote. I am sure that by living in places such as Los Angeles, where the non-citizen population runs near 12%, a vote gets more weight than one cast in Crittenden County Arkansas whose non-citizen count is closer to 1%, perhaps less. It isn't fair to those who vote and it isn't fair to those who can't.

I know, given voter turnout rates, who cares? Don Quixote never had it so good.

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So I guess a lot of the sentiment here is

that when the government comes to your door and demands information from you, no matter what it is, you should just give it to them -- no questions asked. Is that about right?

As has been pointed out, the US Constitution is very specific about the intent of the census and the limited data to be collected. I personally don't care who knows my race, my gender and my income level. But I don't think people who do object are "kooks." In America, it is every citizen's duty to keep the natural tendency of the power-hungry, to encroach on liberty and privacy, in check. The terminally compliant dependents of the State and the comfortable leeches who live off other peoples' diligence are the real menace.

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IT industry full of right wing nuts

Right wing nuts hate the census because they don't trust its goals of counting the minorities that they would rather see continue to not exist at all. Also don't judge Americans based on our Glen Becktards. They are very loud but as they will learn in 2012 when they run Carribou Barbie Palin they are still very much a minority.

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IT Angle

Cracked sense of entitlement to write excessively flowery journalism

I feel entitled to a firewall against the nuisance of articles by former census workers!

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Required but not enforced

Well that's really the point. As far as I've been able to tell (I started looking because now I'm curious) NO ONE has actually been charged, much less fined, for refusing to answer census questions. Until that happens, I'm not sure anyone has standing to challenge the law in court.

The census bureau website actually listed the purpose for each for the questions on the 10 question form most people received. The questions about race on the form are actually to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Acts. Personally I didn't see anything on the form particularly objectionable as it didn't ask for SSN numbers or other more sensitive information. In 2000 it did and I simply ran a black marker across those questions. Oddly enough no one showed up at my door to ask why.

The census also conducts an "economic census" every 5 years that does ask a large number of questions. From what I've been able to tell participation IS NOT mandatory and is a statistical sample of businesses.

Two observations on the issue of census takers.

First, abusing census takers is actually a VERY, VERY OLD issue that can be traced to right after the Civil War. In the 30's it wasn't unusual for rural people to take shots (as in with a firearm) at census employees either mistaking them for revenuers (federal police either enforcing the ban on alcohol at the time or later shutting down unregistered stills) or simply out of pure cussedness. If all you got was insulted and cursed at, count yourself lucky.

Second, I have a couple of friends (retired) who decided to become census takers for something to do. From what I've been told, all you really had to have was a pulse and be able to get to your assigned area. I met a charming young lady one late morning looking for my next door neighbors. She couldn't understand why they were never home till I pointed out they both worked and didn't get home till 5pm. Apparently it never occurred to her that showing up during regular working hours probably wasn't the best method for contacting people at home. Anyway, I helped her fill out the information and then asked her to dinner. We had a nice evening.

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Big Brother

That's Nothing

This census taker should be glad he didn't have to do this work 100+ years ago. Census takers were regularly shot at and chased out of towns, especially in the mountains and Far West. It may be in the Constitution, but some Americans take their privacy seriously. As for me, yes, I returned my census form, but it doesn't mean I'm "happy to oblige". It was a duty, and I carried it out. What I hope doesn't happen is the (name your party) using that information to gerrymander districts so they can retain seats (or deny them to the other parties), as well as "give" representation to certain minorities.

Wait...what? It's already happened you say? Well now I know why census takers take such abuse...

Big Brother, because that's what's this is all about, innit?

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Why we don't trust the Census Bureau with our data

During World War 2, the US Army used Census data about race to identify Japanese-Americans to round up and send to internment camps. Now they don't care so much about race if you're Asian or European, but they really obsess about it if you're from Latin America, and the right-wing politicians obsess about sending all those Latino immigrants back home.

The Census Bureau consistently lies about how private your data is, and how the law keeps it private for 75 years. But data they've collected is data they control, and the law can be changed any time the politicians want to. If we can't keep the government pinned down with Constitutional requirements about habeas corpus or not torturing people, how can we expect census data to stay protected. Maybe the 2011 edition of the Patriot Act will allow Homeland Security to protect our American jobs from Mexican farmworkers, who knows? Or maybe it'll stay private except for internal government use, so you still can't find out who Grandma's real parents were until she's 75, but they can deport you today if they want to.

I don't care if they want to know how many toilets are in my house - they could ask the local tax assessors, so just because it's none of their business doesn't mean it's that secret. But I really don't want the government asking me about race, or national origin, or markers for that like what languages we speak at home (even though I agree that it's useful if they know what percentage of the population would benefit from government services in Spanish or Chinese.) I certainly don't want them asking questions about religion, but fortunately the US stopped that. But even something as simple as gender can be a problem - homosexuality was illegal in about 1/3 of the US until a Supreme Court case a few years ago, and I don't want the government poking into why two men or two women are roommates.

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Services in Spanish and Chinese?

Is it really appropriate for taxpayer-funded services to be provided in Spanish & Chinese?

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Black Helicopters

Citizen count

What the crazy faction of dodgers don't seem to understand is that the details collected are THE official count of citizens. Not answering is the simplest way to renounce ones citizenship from any country.

The youtube correspondent who videoed himself stating that he did not believe and did not want to participate in the nation any longer is likely to think again when the social security database gets cleaned up to remove known false personalities. I have no experience with the USA reconciliation system but if it works anything like our local one you can bet a good dollar all the dodgers this year will be complaining about being revoked later.

/sniggers from a government database manager.

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Boffin

I use census data

I occasionally need to use census data for work. I find it quite useful, and I'm really looking forward to the new census data being released.

Here are some examples of what you can see in the publicly released census data sets:

http://i53.tinypic.com/2ewcw7m.png

In this image you can see where people live in northern California. Each red dot represents a thousand people. You can see the concentration of people in the cities, and that there are some very large and largely uninhabited census tracts in the rural areas.

You can also see some of the tabular data associated with each census tract. There is breakdown of population by race, sex, age, etc. You can see the number of housing units in each tract, and with a little math determine average household size.

http://i51.tinypic.com/a1lag9.png

In this image you can see how granular the data is in terms of geography. This is a map showing population density in a random part of Fresno County in California. In some areas, a census tract is covering just a few blocks. In the image, I've clicked on a tract and can see that there were approx 800 people living there in 2000 and 14 were black and none were Asian.

At work, I use this census data to determine where we are stationing some equipment. I can draw a polygon, select all census tracts intersecting the polygon and then gather statistics from them. So, I'm able to say that in area X there are Y people and we need Z pieces of equipment installed. This is very useful.

So, I just want to say that it's not only government that is using census data. Private enterprise is using it as well. I hope people can see what data is publicly available from the census and can understand its use.

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Big Brother

Not so crazy

IMHO, the people who are afraid census data will be misused aren't so crazy. It has happened in the past, rather spectacularly.

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=confirmed-the-us-census-b

Granted they've been pretty good about keeping the data private for the almost 70 years, but still...

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Invasive federal Vermicious Knids...

The Constitution was very specific on the Census.

The 'government' has taken, (with law-writing courts, etc.) to abusing and persecuting with the census.

Rampant invasions of privacy, which, brainwashed libs don't think are wrong, have been infesting the census for left wing radical causes.

The constitution says they can ask 'how many people live here' and they have taken that to find your national origin, and a few other things to gerrymander voting districts to keep 'their people in'...plus a few hundred other uses (like raising property values of people likely to vote against them, and lowering same for 'friends'..

Rigging the unemployment rate, was for 'good' press from the deadstream media, and the presstitutes that report the figures as if really fact (which they weren't)

Enough knew what was going on, and, most went out with self-important indoctrination that the full government would lean heavy one those not answering every pismire question.

Naw... This was a farcical exercise that is too abusive, of something that should be done without all the nanny-state nosiness.

Ain't it great they lost so much of the power, this election, for it to be used against them!!!

I don't like either party abusing the information, but, I wold love to see ALL gerrymeandering districts done away with (form/future gov Brown was behind egregious gerrymandering... hence the name gerrymeandering)

Some of the information IS important... like how many people live here...

After that, most is stupid intrusion... BY OUR CONSTITUTION... That which is not something the nanny-staters want, restraining them.

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Anonymous Coward

The Over-reaching Census

Fighting the angry American for his data. Yes, HIS DATA. Our constitution requires a head count every ten years. I gave that. The other nine questions were pure nanny state nosiness. We "evil non-compliers" are told over and over again that you must obey the government. Well actually I obeyed the word of the government but not the mouth of the government politicians looking for free data.

Decision of the Supreme Court of the United States

Interstate Commerce Commission v. Brimson, 154 U.S. 447, 479 (May 26, 1894)

“Neither branch of the legislative department, still less any merely administrative body, established by congress, possesses, or can be invested with, a general power of making inquiry into the private affairs of the citizen. Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U.S. 168, 190. We said in Boyd v. U.S., 116 U. S. 616, 630, 6 Sup. Ct. 524, and it cannot be too often repeated, that the principles that embody the essence of constitutional liberty and security forbid all invasions on the part of government and it’s employees of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of his life. As said by Mr. Justice Field in Re Pacific Ry. Commission, 32 Fed. 241, 250, ‘of all the rights of the citizen, few are of greater importance or more essential to his peace and happiness than the right of personal security, and that involves, not merely protection of his person from assault, but exemption of his private affairs, books, and papers from inspection and scrutiny of others. Without the enjoyment of this right, all others would lose half their value.’”

Too bad America is full of sheeple who will answer any question the government asks, especially if the government over-reaches in its asking.

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Over-reach this

So has nothing changed in the States in the last 116 years?

Although it would explain a great deal about the average "evil non-complier" if thier mental processes were stuck in the 19th Century.

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Next time you will die

You were lucky not to be killed.

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