On The Front Lines


Rutherford Institute Sounds Warning Over Intrusive Gov't Questionnaires, Issues Constitutional Guidelines on American Community Survey



February 23, 2017

Charlottesville, Va. — Pushing back against the U.S. Census Bureau’s attempts to require American citizens—upon penalty of monetary fines—to complete the invasive American Community Survey (ACS), The Rutherford Institute has issued constitutional guidelines for individuals alarmed by the government’s use of the ACS to extract private information about their home life and personal habits.

Unlike the traditional census, which is limited to a simple head count every ten years for the purpose of establishing representation in Congress, the ACS is sent on an ongoing basis to about 3 million homes every year at a reported cost of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. Individuals who receive the ACS must complete it or be subject to potentially significant monetary penalties. At 28 pages (with an additional 16-page instruction packet), the ACS contains some of the most detailed and intrusive questions ever put forth in a census questionnaire. These concern matters that the government simply has no business knowing, including questions relating to respondents’ bathing habits, home utility costs, fertility, marital history, work commute, mortgage, and health insurance, among others. As Rutherford Institute attorneys point out, the real danger with the ACS is in not knowing why the information is needed, how it will be used by the government or with whom it will be shared.

The Rutherford Institute’s “Constitutional Q&A: American Community Survey” is available at www.rutherford.org. The Institute has also provided the public with a model letter of complaint to express their objections to this government overreach with the Census Bureau.

“In an age when the government has significant technological resources at its disposal to not only carry out warrantless surveillance on American citizens but also to harvest and mine that data for its own dubious purposes, whether it be crime-mapping or profiling based on race or religion, the potential for abuse is grave,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Any attempt by the government to encroach upon the citizenry’s privacy rights or establish a system by which the populace can be targeted, tracked and singled out must be met with extreme caution. The American Community Survey qualifies as a government program whose purpose, while seemingly benign, raises significant constitutional concerns.”

Empowered by Congress with greater powers to amass information about citizens, the Census Bureau introduced the ACS in 2005. The ACS con­tains some of the most detailed and intrusive questions ever put forth in a census questionnaire, including questions relating to respondents’ bathing habits, home utility costs, fertility, marital history, work commute, mortgage, and health insurance. Information obtained through the ACS is not simply used to in­form government policy in a neutral manner, but is also provided to private operatives for the purpose of promoting corporate and/or political agendas, and the fi­nancial information persons provide could be compared to infor­mation provided to the Internal Revenue Service on tax returns. A failure to respond to the ACS can result in penalties of up to $100 for each question not answered.

Press Contact

Nisha Whitehead
(434) 978-3888 ext. 604
nisha@rutherford.org