# American Community Survey - The Gov wants to know

• News
Staff Emeritus
I am still trying to understand this, but the US Census Bureau is collecting very detailed personal information. I am still trying to understand if it is mandatory. Pattylou got one.

What do you think?

I can understand the need to know how many people actually live in a geographical area in order to apportion representatives according to population, but they Gov is really getting very personal.

Last edited by a moderator:

## Answers and Replies

Rach3
Big Brother Sam said:
The American Community Survey is conducted under the authority of Title 13, United States Code, Sections 141 and 193, and response is mandatory. According to Section 221, persons who do not respond shall be fined not more than $100. Title 18 U.S.C. Section 3571 and Section 3559, in effect amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221 by changing the fine for anyone over 18 years old who refuses or willfully neglects to complete the questionnaire or answer questions posed by census takers from a fine of not more than$100 to not more than $5,000. The U.S. Census Bureau may use this information only for statistical purposes. We can assure you that your confidentiality is protected. Title 13 requires the Census Bureau to keep all information about you and all other respondents strictly confidential. Any Census Bureau employee who violates these provisions is subject to a fine of up to$250,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years, or both.
http://www.census.gov/acs/www/SBasics/What/What1.htm [Broken]

The methodology of this survey is bold and breathtakingly muddled.

Last edited by a moderator:
Staff Emeritus
I don't understand the rationale behind collecting these data. I've heard its for local planning purposes - but that's local and state government. What the heck is the Federal government doing collecting this information?

The fact that it is mandatory - and one HAS to answer the questions!

Talk about snooping into one's private life.

"response is mandatory"... that doesn't mean that you have to tell the truth. Also, although that information seems rather intrusive, some part of the government already has most of that information. Between filing taxes, Social Security, etc. etc. there isn't much you're telling them that they don't have.

Also, this is just a survey. Nobody can use any of that information against you in any way, it's just for "statistical purposes" and is "strictly confidential" like Big Brother Sam said.

Evo
Mentor
I guess I missed where it says it's mandatory, but I didn't search much, it's nothing personal, but it is helpful for community planning.

I would assume the information will be shared with local communities. I have voluntarily participated in similar surveys locally to help with determining needs for transportion, schooling and road expansion. I think this is great.

People are getting WAAAY too paranoid.

Art
Evo said:
I guess I missed where it says it's mandatory, but I didn't search much, it's nothing personal, but it is helpful for community planning.

I would assume the information will be shared with local communities. I have voluntarily participated in similar surveys locally to help with determining needs for transportion, schooling and road expansion. I think this is great.

People are getting WAAAY too paranoid.
Ah, but even paranoids have enemies.

SOS2008
Gold Member
Looking briefly at the survey, my guess is they want to update stats not only for proper representation, but also property taxes, correlation between income and housing debt as well as health burdens, etc. I think the census is always anonymous, isn't it? And I wonder how an illegal alien will feel about the fine for not responding...

One thing they will see is new disparity in many regions. For example, Arizona is a "right to work state" (no unions) and is one of only three or four states in the entire nation that does not have its own minimum wage established (above the federal minimum). Add to that the illegal population now estimated at 35 percent. Aside from nationwide inflation in education, health care, and energy, housing in Arizona is now out of reach for most people, and I understand the large number of apartment-to-condo conversions will result in increased rent. If pay does not keep pace in states like Arizona, combined with an increased tax burden, the effects will soon be seen.

Astonuc, you do not have to give them an answer. If I recall correctly, all you have to tell them is how many people live there. You have the right to tell them to leave, even if they threat to come back with a police officer. I'd tell them to get lost, or they can talk to your lawyer.

Evo
Mentor
You know, some of the surveys are for the good. It helps to point out problems.

I have a friend that has studied old census reports and it's fascinating.

Staff Emeritus
We did the census form in 2000. I haven't seen the ACS.

I don't have a particular problem with it, except for the details on mortgage, second mortgage, insurance, . . . . , interest income. It does seem unnecessarily intrusive. Would it not suffice to simply ask "Do you own or rent the home?"

I rent office at an Architect/Engineering firm that does a lot of the land development in the area, and I have been heavily involved in planning issues. The Federal government is always very indirectly invovled, because the Federal money goes to state and local governments.

The local governments and states do use census data to develop the demographics of the area. I have seen details, but not personal financial information.

You know, some of the surveys are for the good. It helps to point out problems.

I have a friend that has studied old census reports and it's fascinating.
I agree. I have used such data, and it is fascinating, especially when taken over several decades.

Last edited:
Evo
Mentor
You don't have to answer what you're not comfortable in disclosing, I guess they want to see if people are living beyond their means in some areas. But I wouldn't say they need to know that. They're always going to ask for more than they expect.

But they have that information through tax returns.

Pengwuino
Gold Member
What is so bad about this survey? Hell, half of this stuff you report on your tax return anyhow.

loseyourname
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
These are exactly the same questions from the old long form. They're completely full of crap to act like this is a "reengineering" of the Census, unless they've simply changed the way they do the sampling. The old long form was sent to every 6th household, with the sequence chosen randomly.

Edit: Never mind. Looking at, it's pretty obvious what was changed. These are the same questions from the long form, but this will be administered every year, instead of every ten years. The information is used mainly in allocating federal funds.

Also, apparently you already could be fined for refusing of neglecting to answer the Census questionnaire. The amendment here raises the fine from not more than $100 to not more than$5000. I have no wonder if anyone has ever actually been fined for this, though. When I was an enumerator in 2000, we were told to be persistent, but that was all. We weren't even told that people could be fined. We were instructed to tell people the law said they had to fill out the form, but if they refused, there wasn't much we could do. We were not law enforcement.

Last edited:
Evo said:
You know, some of the surveys are for the good. It helps to point out problems.

I have a friend that has studied old census reports and it's fascinating.

Whether this turns out to be good or bad depends on how and by whom the information is used. It has the potential to be totally missused.

In recent years I tend to be suspicious of anything new that the federal govenment does. To me this has NSA and "connecting the dots" written in the fine print.

As for the mandatory part, it definitely is, even to the point of fines for not answering all questions.

Unfortunately, the survey is not voluntary. Answering the questions is not a polite request from the Census Bureau. You are legally obligated to answer. If you refuse, the fines are staggering. For every question not answered, there is a $100 fine. And for every intentionally false response to a question, the fine is$500. Therefore, if a person representing a two-person household refused to fill out any questions or simply answered nonsensically, the total fines could range from upwards of $10,000 and$50,000 for noncompliance.
http://www.rutherford.org/articles_db/commentary.asp?record_id=299

I don't know whether the Rutherford institute is a buch of whackos or not, but they have been involved in some high profile "personal freedom" cases.

Amp1
Evo, not that anyones getting paranoid, but this line thats supposed to reassure us "Any Census Bureau employee who violates these provisions is subject to a fine of up to $250,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years, or both." Leaves out the NSA, CIA, and the FBI (not that you should worry over that if you are clean.) With the massive data trolling thats being used on citizens I would be apprehensive about the misuse or misintentions of them getting personal data. Pengwuino Gold Member Amp1 said: Evo, not that anyones getting paranoid, but this line thats supposed to reassure us "Any Census Bureau employee who violates these provisions is subject to a fine of up to$250,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years, or both." Leaves out the NSA, CIA, and the FBI (not that you should worry over that if you are clean.) With the massive data trolling thats being used on citizens I would be apprehensive about the misuse or misintentions of them getting personal data.

Yah, the CIA and NSA really need to know whether or not you've had any substantial rental income in the last 12 months. Give me a break

Amp1 said:
Evo, not that anyones getting paranoid, but this line thats supposed to reassure us "Any Census Bureau employee who violates these provisions is subject to a fine of up to $250,000 or a prison sentence of up to five years, or both." Leaves out the NSA, CIA, and the FBI (not that you should worry over that if you are clean.) With the massive data trolling thats being used on citizens I would be apprehensive about the misuse or misintentions of them getting personal data. ........... ok? How could you misuse this data? moose said: ........... ok? How could you misuse this data? OK leaving out the federal security agencies, marketing companies could have a field day with this type of information. The laws allowing for federal surveys were passed in the 1950's, but were never used. In the late 90's when the survey was proposed to be an in depth random sampling of information that would be less expensive than the census, there was opposition from the political right. As you can see below the Vice Chair of the Committee on Government Reform questioned the legality of the survey in 2002. April 4, 2002 The Honorable Bob Barr Vice Chairman Committee on Government Reform House of Representatives Subject: Legal Authority for American Community Survey Dear Mr. Vice Chairman: This responds to your letter regarding the legal authority of the U.S. Census Bureau (Bureau) to conduct the American Community Survey (ACS), a monthly survey of a sample of households that, beginning in 2003, is intended to replace the long form questionnaire for the decennial census in 2010. You asked us to provide (1) the legal authority under which the Bureau is conducting the ACS, including any legislative history concerning the development and implementation of ACS, (2) the Bureau's legal authority to require recipients to respond to the ACS, and (3) information on any other federal government questionnaires or surveys that require similar specific, detailed personal information be provided to the government. http://www.gao.gov/decisions/other/289852.htm Whenever the Federal govenment pulls some little known 50 year old laws out of the hat all of a sudden it is not about saving money. Ironically the FBI, CIA and NSA would be foolish if they didn't use the information from this survey. That is why I mentioned in a previous post that they would be doing some "connecting the dots" with this information in the same way they are using telephone records. Also note that the use of the American Community Survey did not get off the launch pad until after 9/11. Hmm so how do they plan to survey the 12 million illegals? For the most part the questions below seem to aimed at ethnic origins. Will these people actually answer the questions? Is the survey in Spanish? Arrgg I have given myself a self inflicted headache. By providing updated information about the U.S. population each year, the American Community Survey (ACS)—a relatively new Census Bureau monthly survey that provides reliable and timely demographic, housing, social, and economic data—will greatly improve our understanding of trends in international migration and the characteristics of new immigrants to the United States.3 The ACS questionnaire includes seven questions specific to international migration: State or country of birth; U.S. citizenship status; Year of U.S. entry; Place of residence one year ago; Ancestry or ethnic origin; Language spoken at home; and Hispanic origin. ACS questions about immigration serve two broad purposes. First, policymakers, researchers, and others use these data to determine the size and characteristics of the foreign-born population in states. For example, these data can help monitor changes in the age, gender, education level, or country of origin of the U.S. foreign-born population, or to develop educational programs for people with limited English skills. http://www.prb.org/Template.cfm?Section=PRB&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=13276 [Broken] Last edited by a moderator: SOS2008 Gold Member This is originally from an MSNBC article dated 2001 (@ http://www.msnbc.com/news/530646.asp [/URL]): [QUOTE]In a corner of the U.S. Census Bureau, a small group of statisticians has been sweating out the agency’s nightmare scenario: “re-identification.” That’s the term for a technique the bureau fears could allow marketers and other “intruders” to match anonymous census information with the names of the people who provided it. Such a concern is largely theoretical so far. ---------- Confidentiality is key at the Census Bureau, since almost no one would participate in the great decennial inquisition without it. But ensuring anonymity is increasingly difficult in the age of the Internet and computer databases that contain millions of customer-purchase records and other information. The Census Bureau doesn’t publicize it, but two years ago one of its own statisticians began warning that increasingly powerful computers could make it possible for outsiders to glean personally identified information from census data. ---------- The bureau for decades has engaged in a little-known technique called “data swapping,” in which a few key pieces of information about one person are switched with those of another person with a similar background living nearby. For example, to mask a data file containing the ages and incomes of six people, researchers would randomly rearrange the income levels so that within one census block, a 21-year-old originally listed as making$20,000 is now listed as making $15,000, while a 50-year old making$15,000 is now listed as making \$20,000. The process allows researchers to continue to draw valid observations from the file, since the swapping doesn’t change the totals for each data column within a census block.

Since 1990, government statisticians also have added distortion techniques known as “random noise” and “coarsening” to further confuse things. These involve slightly altering a number, such as income level, upward or downward and offsetting it by moving another number in the opposite direction. The trick is to blur the information without making it invalid for the kind of analysis for which the census is designed. Yet in some cases, “users have found this extremely irritating and unacceptable,” one Census Bureau researcher noted in a recent paper.
---------
Mr. Winkler, whose 1998 paper was commissioned by the bureau to test its security, and other statisticians believe that masked data can be at least partially deconstructed by matching it against demographic data now easily accessible on the Internet, such as estimated income levels and home values.

“There is an increased concern because of the amount of data that may now be publicly available on the Web that perhaps wasn’t there years ago,” says Laura Zayatz, who heads a four-person division within the Census Bureau called the Disclosure Limitation Group. “In response to that, we are ending up with less detail in our public microdata files than was there 10 years ago.” But even with the new precautions, Ms. Zayatz says she has no way to be certain this year’s census data isn’t vulnerable to re-identification.
---------
The re-identification process is highly complex and doesn’t have a high yield: In a Census Bureau test, only 10 percent of survey participants could be re-identified. But that is enough for the bureau to be concerned.

“I think many people feel they could probably obtain information easier from some other source than trying to obtain it from a census file,” says the bureau’s Ms. Zayatz, “but we’re still very protective.”[/QUOTE][PLAIN]http://www.theexperiment.org/articles_printer.php?news_id=1156 [Broken]

Organizations that could have the access and technology would be a government agency such as the NSA. But if the yield is low, I doubt the resources needed would be worth it.

Last edited by a moderator:
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
1) The questions. After many fights in Congress the questions represent what Congress allowed the Department of the Interior to ask on cencus forms. The Department has just copied them onto these non-cencus inquiries.

2) The inquiry. I do not have a reference but I am sure he Department would not be doing this off-cencus inquiry without some color of legality from Congress. Can others find the relevant act?

3)The threat. If the NSA had not been coulght with its network analysis program nobody would be seriously worried about this. Correlations between self-perceived race and housing, for example, is a perfectly reasonable for a government which has the welfare responsibilities the VOTERS HAVE IN FACT CEDED TO IT* to want to know. Considerations of some libertarian ideal state are beside the point.

*And which the necons have not been able to dismantle.

Tarheel
I think the survey is A GOOD THING.

How can Billionaire politicians understand the financial struggle of common Americans if they don't ask these questions?
It's reminds me of the Barbara Bush comment post Katrina when she stated how she just couldn't comprehend why all those people didn't just jump in their cars and evacuate, she has no concept of the poverty those people deal with every day.

I saw nothing on that form that could potentially be used for evil! :surprised

Tarheel said:
I think the survey is A GOOD THING.
I saw nothing on that form that could potentially be used for evil! :surprised

Whew, at least we can rule out using the info for evil.

One problem I have is that the federal government has been in the process of privitizing almost everything, and that includes data collection and number crunching. The federal government also has a bad record for losing and misplacing things.

The basic idea of the monthly surveys is probably good. How and by whom the job is done is another matter. This information collection and use needs very tight security and oversite.

As an example of what can happen to digital information according to my local paper: Wells Fargo Bank recently had a computer lost in shipment. The hard drive on that computer contained the names, social security numbers , loan account numbers, and mortgage loan numbers of several million customers.