Census: A Little Too Personal?

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The following was submitted by a CentralSpeaks reader. Congressman and former Presidential candidate Ron Paul wrote this article explaining his opinion of the Census. Do you believe the Census is too personal?

Last week Congress voted to encourage participation in the 2010 census. I voted “No” on this resolution for the simple, obvious reason that the census – like so many government programs – has grown far beyond what the framers of our Constitution intended. The invasive nature of the current census raises serious questions about how and why government will use the collected information. It also demonstrates how the federal bureaucracy consistently encourages citizens to think of themselves in terms of groups, rather than as individual Americans. The not so subtle implication is that each group, whether ethnic, religious, social, or geographic, should speak up and demand its “fair share” of federal largesse.
Article I, section 2 of the Constitution calls for an enumeration of citizens every ten years, for the purpose of apportioning congressional seats among the various states. In other words, the census should be nothing more than a headcount. It was never intended to serve as a vehicle for gathering personal information on citizens.
But our voracious federal government thrives on collecting information. In fact, to prepare for the 2010 census state employees recorded GPS coordinates for every front door in the United States so they could locate individuals with greater accuracy! Once duly located, individuals are asked detailed questions concerning their name, address, race, home ownership, and whether they periodically spend time in prison or a nursing home – just to name a few examples.
From a constitutional perspective, of course, the answer to each of these questions is: “None of your business.” But the bigger question is – why government is so intent on compiling this information in the first place?
The Census Bureau claims that collected information is not shared with any federal agency; but rather is kept under lock and key for 72 years. It also claims that no information provided to census takers can be used against you by the government.
However, these promises can and have been abused in the past. Census data has been used to locate men who had not registered for the draft. Census data also was used to find Japanese-Americans for internment camps during World War II. Furthermore, the IRS has applied census information to detect alleged tax evaders. Some local governments even have used census data to check for compliance with zoning regulations.
It is not hard to imagine that information compiled by the census could be used against people in the future, despite claims to the contrary and the best intentions of those currently in charge of the Census Bureau. The government can and does change its mind about these things, and people have a right to be skeptical about government promises.
Yet there are consequences for not submitting to the census and its intrusive questions. If the form is not mailed back in time, households will experience the “pleasure” of a visit by a government worker asking the questions in person. If the government still does not get the information it wants, it can issue a fine of up to $5000.
If the federal government really wants to increase compliance with the census, it should abide by the Constitution and limit its inquiry to one simple question: How many people live here?


  1. Chris M.

    March 10, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Census Law
    Posted by Walter Block on March 10, 2010 12:56 PM
    I pass this along letter on the census for your information, only. I do not counsel anyone to break the law. Of course, I’m not real sure of what the law is. A direct and literal reading of the U.S. Constitution it seems to me, a non lawyer, is clear as to what the law is: people are legally obligated, only, to cooperate in a head count for political representation purposes. But, my fear, my expectation, even, is that present courts will not interpret the law in that way, and may instead punish census rebels who refuse to furnish additional required (requested?) information. In any case, the following will undoubtedly be of interest to all people concerned with liberty; I offer it exactly as it was sent to me:

    From: on behalf of DarkLaw
    Sent: Tue 3/9/2010 9:02 PM
    Subject: Re: [ronpaul-200] Ron Paul CNN on Cafferty Files 2/27/10

    My response to the Census

    I compiled this letter and inserted it into the Census envelope, along with my 2010 census form.
    I marked off that ‘02′ people reside at this address….and, well… read the rest!

    Use this as a template! This is just another small step in which we can show the Feds we won’t take this nonsense lying down!

    To Whom it May Concern,

    Pursuant to Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, the only information you are empowered to request is the total number of occupants at this address. My “name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, telephone number, relationship and housing tenure” have absolutely nothing to do with apportioning direct taxes or determining the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. Therefore, neither Congress nor the Census Bureau have the constitutional authority to make that information request a component of the enumeration outlined in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3. In addition, I cannot be subject to a fine for basing my conduct on the Constitution because that document trumps laws passed by Congress.

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

    “Neither branch of the legislative department [House of Representatives or Senate], still less any merely administrative body [such as the Census Bureau], 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.’”

    Note: This United States Supreme Court case has never been overturned.


    A Citizen of the United States of America

  2. Chris M.

    March 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    I have EVERY intention of printing this letter and including it with my UNCOMPLETED census form. There is absolutely no reason why we should be trying to get OUR OWN money from the government. I hope that Central is not such a sheepish town, that it not want to exercise its freedom to follow the Constitution. I feel that probably instead of actually GETTING money from the Feds, we would be taxed. Our children have already been thrown under the bus (of debt)— the more we ALL reach for “handouts” from federal programs, the deeper we put them into debt. I am sure I am pushing the envelope on this site, but don’t cut me out, I have a strong voice and I intend on helping others see the evils that I do. I will post interesting articles on the forums, if anyone is ready to learn…..

  3. beth

    March 11, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    As long as no one starts personally attacking anyone or abusing the site, this is an open forum. Also, I think you have made some very interesting points here that I had not previously considered.

  4. Chris M.

    March 12, 2010 at 5:59 am

    No worry of that Mrs. Beth. I have been researching Libertarian ideals and Austrian economics for the past year. And name-calling is only used against people like us, when our facts cannot be proven wrong—which is quite often.

  5. Chris M.

    March 15, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Just got my census form, parts are contradictory but I still feel it to be too personal

  6. ward

    March 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    Chris, If you fill it out and mail it out before April 1, you could answer IDK. The question is “As of April 1, 2010, how many people live here…”

  7. Bebe

    March 27, 2010 at 11:31 am

    I am in total agreement with you Chris! Thanks for this post and this letter. I still haven’t sent in the census form either, and debated whether I would or not.

    Whomever this current administration thinks it is, I still live in America and as such I am obligated to uphold the Constitution, which I will. Just the headcount and this letter they will have on us too!

    Thanks again!!


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