Why we should
fear the census
Many Americans have been concerned about the apparent invasion of privacy involved in the current U.S. Census process. I have been one of them. Now it appears these fears were well-founded.
On May 5, 2000, Kenneth Prewitt, Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, testified before the House Subcommittee on the Census. In his testimony, he made several startling statements that should concern every American, especially those who are concerned about their personal privacy.
1. He blatantly misrepresented the purpose of the Constitution. In his testimony, Mr. Prewitt lamented the fact that a large minority of Americans were refusing to answer all the questions on the census form. The reason for their refusal was their belief that the Constitution only authorized asking one question: "How many people live in your home?" He stated:
"This misreading of the Constitution -- which states that the census is to be conducted 'in such manner as [Congress] shall by law direct' -- ignores the fact that the nation's founders directed that the census be a tabulation of the population by such characteristics as age, gender, race and household composition."
Are these Americans mistaken as Mr. Prewitt alleges? Did the nation's founders direct that the census tabulate demographic information beyond a simple enumeration of the population? Perhaps he does not think that his audience will double-check his statement. (Sadly, most of our elected officials have demonstrated time and time again that they have little interest in the Constitution and even less will to actually use it to curb the excesses of renegade agencies).
You can check it for yourself. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution states:
Moreover, Mr. Prewitt completely misinterprets the phrase "in such Manner as they [Congress] shall by Law direct." We need to understand that the founders were expounding on the principles by which our republic would be governed. They did not go into detail about how such provisions would be carried out administratively. There are, in fact, many ways in which the census could be administered -- in person, over the phone, through the mail, or any combination thereof. Changing circumstances may require different procedures in conducting the enumeration. That's all the phrase in question means. It most certainly does not mean that Congress may change the purpose of the census or the nature of the information that is collected. (Remember, the Constitution was a document that was designed to limit the rights of government, not provide a foundation for expanding them.)
The Constitution calls for a simple enumeration. Period. In other words, the government may count the number of individuals residing within the country. They may not, as Mr. Prewitt asserts, tabulate the population "by such characteristics as age, gender, race and household composition." Nowhere in the Constitution is this stated or implied. At best, Mr. Prewitt is ignorant of the constitutional authority by which his agency operates. At worst, he is purposely distorting constitutional reality, so that he may further extend the powers of the federal government.
2. He admits that some citizens are being asked for their Social Security Number as "an experiment." In the same testimony before the Subcommittee on the Census, he stated:
"The U.S. Census Bureau is implementing a series of experiments during Census 2000 to measure the effectiveness of new techniques, methodologies, and/or technologies in order to form recommendations for subsequent testing and possible innovations in the design of the next decennial census. One of these experiments is investigating how the public responds to requests for Social Security numbers on census questionnaires." [emphasis mine]
I don't know about you, but I don't like someone experimenting on me without my knowledge or consent. By what constitutional authority are they conducting these experiments? Even more frightening, what is their ultimate purpose?
Let me suggest that they are testing our will to resist. They want to know how far they can go in the future.
We must remember that the Constitution does not give them the authority to collect demographic information. Nor does it give them the authority to collect what has become the de facto Universal Identification Number (a.k.a. the Social Security Number). They have the authority to do one thing: conduct a simple enumeration of the population for the purpose of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives.
I can promise you this: If the experiment goes well -- that is, a large percentage of citizens voluntarily provide their Social Security Number -- you can be sure the feds will continue to push the envelope and become even more intrusive in the future. What began as an experiment will inevitably result in law.
3. He acknowledges that census information is the foundation of a comprehensive national database. Specifically, using the Social Security Number, the Census Bureau can request information from other agencies and combine it with their own for the purpose of "program evaluation and enhancement." Again, in his testimony before the Subcommittee on the Census, Mr. Prewitt said:
"Section 6 of Title 13, United States Code, specifically authorizes the Census Bureau to acquire data from other agencies instead of conducting direct inquiries. The Social Security numbers collected in these surveys permit us to combine survey responses with their corresponding administrative data for program evaluation and enhancement. As the Privacy Act requires, respondents are told that the Social Security number is being collected so that information from other agencies may be combined with their survey responses."
There it is in black and white. The government is making a concerted effort to consolidate data collected by its various agencies. They are building a master file, under the control of the Census Bureau. They claim that they are doing this for the purpose of enhancing government programs. I would suggest that it is even more sinister than that. The purpose is nothing less than the tracking and control of American citizens.
To summarize, the current census is largely unconstitutional in its intent. The primary purpose of the census is no longer to count noses so that each state is properly represented in the House. The overt purpose is to "divide the booty," making sure that each district gets its fair share of the federal largess. The covert purpose is to build a comprehensive national database for the purpose of tracking and controlling American citizens. They are using the current census as "an experiment" to see just how much we will give them voluntarily. In short, they are testing our will to resist.
Sadly, 65 percent of our citizens have failed the test. They have voluntarily complied with this unlawful process, providing more information that the Constitution requires. Now U.S. Census workers (euphemistically called "Enumerators") are busily at work, trying to induce cooperation from the remaining 35 percent by visiting them at home. And make no mistake about it, they are determined. Mr. Prewitt, again before the Subcommittee, states:
"I want to reemphasize that the Census Bureau will fully apply its procedures to account for every address that is on our list to be visited during non-response follow-up. Those procedures are extensive and include making up to six attempts -- three by personal visit and three by phone (when a phone number is available) -- to complete the enumeration of a housing unit."
If this doesn't frighten you, I don't know what will. Our privacy -- your privacy! -- is being systematically taken from you. But we may still have a choice. We can either resist now while we can still do so peacefully, or we can give up our privacy voluntarily. If you chose the latter, don't be surprised if you one day wake up in Panopticon -- the world of total surveillance and total control.
Michael S. Hyatt is the executive director of the Institute for Personal Privacy. The Institute's mission is to raise public awareness of privacy issues; to provide individuals with practical strategies for reclaiming and maintaining their privacy; and to encourage Congress to enforce existing privacy laws and, when necessary, create new laws guaranteeing individual privacy. The Institute sponsors an online discussion group called
More Privacy, where individuals can learn more about these issues and exchange ideas with other participants.
©2000 Michael S. Hyatt
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