Firestorm Hits Capitol Hill As Americans Protest 2000 Census

By Tom DeWeese

Phone lines are ringing off the wall in Congressional Offices as Americans express their outrage over the intrusive questions on the 2000 Census form. Even the short form’s “eight simple questions” invade personal privacy as it asks if the home is owned or rented, who owns it and what is the telephone number. All of this information is already available to the government through federal, state and local records. What does such information have to do with assuring an official count of the nation, as called for in the Constitution?

The truth can be found in the barrage of government ads flooding the airways to pressure Americans to fill out the form. It’s all about money and political power. The ads provide a colossal guilt trip specifically targeting various groups of citizens with the message that failing to fill out the census form is tantamount to treason. Some ads invoke images of Martin Luther King marching for civil rights. Message: fail to fill out the form and betray Dr. King and the whole civil rights movement. Parents are another targeted group. The message conveyed: fill out the form or the schools will lose federal funding. Patriotism is the most bizarre appeal.

As usual, the Clinton Administration has no problem equating Big Brother intrusion of personal privacy with civic duty. Somehow they miss the message that massive government spending programs, personal data files, and threats of fines and jail for non-compliance aren’t exactly what the founding fathers had in mind.

In truth, the Constitution specifically calls for a count of the people every ten years. Period. The nation needs to know how many people it has in order to establish voting boundaries to reapportion seats in Congress and for states to redistrict legislative seats and school boards.

Now news comes from the federal immigration service that the agency wants illegal immigrants to fill out the form as well. Doesn’t the term “illegal” indicate that they aren’t supposed to be here in the first place and shouldn’t the agency be alerted to immediately arrest any illegal located during the Census? Well, it’s a concept that apparently hasn’t occurred to the government.

Each decade the Census gets more intrusive and personal because each decade the government gets bigger and more involved in our personal lives. The long form that one out of six Americans is required to complete is one of the worst invasions of privacy ever forced on the nation. Fifty-two questions pry into whether the person lived in an apartment or house five years ago; is a grandparent responsible for most of the basic needs of any grandchildren living in the house; at what location did this person work LAST WEEK; how did this person get to work LAST WEEK; what time did this person go to work LAST WEEK; describe clearly the person’s chief job activity or business LAST WEEK. Income, plumbing fixtures, how many cars, mortgage information, real estate taxes, and on and on go the questions. One out of one hundred will receive an even more detailed questionnaire.

Who Gave the Government the Right to Pry?

Many Americans are now asking what gives the government the right to pry into their lives this way and they want to know if they have to fill out the form.

The Federal Government gave itself the right to pry into your life under Title 13 of the United States Code. The Code was last updated in March of 1991. Not only does it say they can ask such questions, but the code also outlines various penalties if you don’t answer or if you give false answers. In fact, the penalties are worse for false answers than for simply ignoring the form. The penalty for not answering every question on the form is $100. False answers will cost $500. A direct correspondence received by the American Policy Center from the Census Bureau concerning fines also states specifically that “whoever refuses or willfully neglects to answer any of the questions, whether asked by an enumerator (personal visit) or questionnaire, shall be fined up to $1000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”

The Libertarian Party is advocating that Americans boycott all but the one Constitutional question concerning the number of people who live in the home. The Party says, “Real Americans don’t answer nosy Census questions.” They say pay the fine and send Washington a message to “stay out of our lives.” Meanwhile, the Census Bureau, perhaps sensing a nationwide revolt, has said it will not enforce the fines against anyone failing to comply. “The Census Bureau is not an enforcing agency. We are not going to collect any such fines,” said Census 2000 Media Relations Director Neil Tillman, adding that any enforcement would have to come from the Justice Department. Fair warning to any political foes of the Clintons who may advocate defiance.

Many Americans are saying, “forget it, I’ll pay the hundred bucks.” Do so at your own risk. Another response could be to comply, but also make a call to the boys over at the Census Bureau Complaint Line at 1-800-471-9424 and let them know how you feel about this invasion of your privacy. Most effective, however, would be to call your Congressman because Representative Ron Paul has again come to the rescue and introduced H.R.4085 that will prohibit the Census Bureau from collecting any information from citizens except name, address and the number of people per residence. Tell your Congressman to cosponsor H.R. 4085. After the number of calls he’s already received about the Census, he may be more than ready to listen. While Rep. Paul’s bill won’t help us with today’s Census, ten years from now we’ll be spared an even more intrusive form.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.