Invictus on Fri, 26 Apr 2002 21:24:01 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Don't Trust the Census

When the US Government rounded up Japanese-Americans in 1942, they used
the "supposedly private" census data to tell the soldiers how many
Japanese lived on each block. Perhaps they didn't hand out these
families' census forms, but the data needed to put them into prison
camps certainly came from the "strictly confidential" census. Don't
participate in it, don't work for it, don't fill it out, and feed it
false data whenever you can. There is no effective law against doing so;
the maximum penalty is $100, no jail, and it is VERY rarely enforced.
The Constitution authorizes them to count heads every ten years, not to
ask how many bathrooms you have and what racial group your ancestors are
Previous abuses of census information 
A good reference is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal of 8/8/89,
page A10, "Honesty May Not Be Your Best Census Policy", by James Bovard.
I found a copy in the SF Public Library on microfilm. Your library
probably has it somewhere. It documents a couple of violations. 
The most obvious is that census data was used to round up the
Japanese-Americans in 1942. "The Census Bureau provided the Army with a
list of exactly how many Japanese-Americans lived in given
neighborhoods, making it easy to round them up for internment during
World War II. Census Bureau spokesman Ray Bancroft insists that this was
not a breach of confidentiality because the bureau did not give out the
names or exact addresses of Japanese-Americans. This is like someone
claiming he bears no responsibility for setting loose on your block a
wolf that just happened to gnaw on your leg -- simply because he didn't
set the wolf free at your doorstep and tell the wolf to bite you
Other cases occurred in Montgomery County, MD; Pullman, Wash; Long
Island Regional Planning Commission; and Urbana, IL; where census data
released on a 'block' basis is used to check compliance with local
building codes and zoning laws. A block can have as few as 6 houses; the
average is 14. This clearly lets these governments pinpoint where to
send their inspectors to charge people with violations. 
The IRS tried to use computer matching of census data and private
mailing lists to track down people wno don't file income taxes, in 1983.

All of the above is from the article. The maximum penalties are from the
Census Act itself, I think it's Title 12 of the US Code. You can find it
in any law library or government depository library (e.g. your city
library or large university library). If you look in the "US Code
Annotated" books then you'll find the court cases about the Census Act
listed too. 
How to handle public meetings about the census 
(Written by me in 1990 last time this happened.) 
I just got back from a Census rah-rah meeting sponsored by two local
Congresswomen. They had a bunch of folks from the Census Bureau plus
people from the local Complete Count Committee. The Complete Count
Committee represents local communities trying to get a good count, e.g.
the homeless, blacks, arabs, Latinos, asians, etc. The Committee had
little good to say about the Census Bureau, a litany of broken promises
and no support. The homeless won't be counted well because sending in
middleclass people scares them, and few homeless are willing to submit
to an FBI check so they can work for the Census Bureau for a few weeks.
Latino enumerators are required to pass an English literacy exam because
the enumerator classes and administration forms are in English, even
though the census forms themselves are available in Spanish. Census
bureau outreach to schools has been botched by sending one lesson-plan
packet to each school principal, none to teachers. Etc. 
They tried to railroad the question-answer period so if you go to such a
meeting, watch out for that. There were a bunch of people who were
waiting to ask or comment when they said they would take two more
questions. I interrupted them and called them on it, saying that they
were more interested in telling us what to do than in listening to our
questions and comments, and they said the meeting was advertised to end
at noon. They then spent the next ten minutes blathering, thanking
everyone for coming and etc. They didn't get away with it because they
were cornered in the hall by about 40 people (most of the audience) and
had to listen and respond for another 25 minutes. 
I found that my first question, "Didn't the census bureau supply the
Army with the locations of all the Japanese-Americans in 1942 so that
they could be taken off to concentration camps?" provoked quite a stir
in the audience. The Census Bureau's answer didn't quiet the stir. I
asked it in response to their speech about the utter "confidentiality"
of the information. However, this alerted them that I was a troublemaker
and thereafter, a Congresswoman interrupted whenever it looked like the
moderator was going to call on me. Moral: Bring a few people and don't
sit together! 
My second question I squeezed in at the end after they tried to squelch
further discussion. It was "If someone decides not to answer the census,
what is the maximum penalty? Can they be sent to jail?" The first phrase
is critical, the whole meeting had not even mentioned that someone could
"decide not to answer", they talked about "undercounts" and "outreach
efforts" and "refugees from repressive governments who we need to
convince about our government". Unfortunately the Census Bureau rep lied
in his answer, saying $1000. The Census Act specifies a penalty of $100.

I spoke with the Census rep afterward, and he surprised me by saying
that his parents and siblings were taken to the internment camps (he is
Japanese- American). But he still doesn't see anything wrong with the
census. He said that the data the Army used was available to everyone --
not noticing that the mere collection of the data makes its abuse, as
well as its use, inevitable. He seemed to be slightly moved by my
charging him with making it easier for the next round-up, say of Central
Americans or drug users. (The data they supplied was how many Japanese
lived in each block in the country. The average block contains 14
houses. If the data says 5 Japanese live on this block, they just have
to search until they find the household (two parents, three kids) and
then they can go on to the next block, skipping completely the ones with
no Japanese. In short, it made the repression a lot easier to
administer. Their defense is that they didn't give out names and
addresses -- just which block each Japanese-American lived in.) 
They have a publicity machine cranking up for the rest of the month so
there will probably be plenty of opportunities for Libertarians to speak
out on this issue. I encourage every Libertarian candidate for office to
take a stand now, while the Census is "newsworthy". You might call local
radio station personalities and see if they will do a show about the
Census (with you in the studio!). The morning commuter shows might be a
good place, and the late night national and regional talk shows. 
A good starting point for research is the Wall Street Journal, 8/8/89,
page A10, editorial by James Bovard of the Competitive Enterprise
Institute. This one page (reproduced below) will give you more points
than you're likely to be able to bring up in a meeting or talk show. 
Consequences of Census Resistance 
From: Lee King
Subject: Re: Consequences of census resistance
Date: 9 Mar 90 22:22:30 
Since the census bureau only filed against one person in 1960 and one in
1970 (and later dropped the charges, according to the mailout from the
Committee for Census Privacy), I don't intend to answer non-count
questions, either. If they try to prosecute thousands of us it will cost
them more than what it's worth (I hope). 
* Origin: Liberty Houston (713) 785-4763 (Opus 1:106/1776) 
Date: Mon, 09 Apr 90 12:50:19 -0700 I read a summary of the case that
indicated $100/question but I haven't read the actual case. At any rate
I don't think it set a national precedent, or was applied against more
than one person. It wasn't a Supreme Court case, just a local Federal
district court case. 
In 1960 two people were prosecuted for resisting the Census.
In 1970 one person.
In 1980 we don't have figures but it wasn't masses of people. They don't
like to give it publicity. I went to a meeting with two Congresswomen
and the local Census honchos, and they were quite careful to even avoid
mentioning the possibility that people might DECIDE to not answer the
census. They kept talking about undercounts and such, but implying it
was all due to mistakes or 'missing some people' rather than those
people DECIDING not to be part of the sham. 
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 90 16:52:36 -0800 
One court case held the $100 to be per question, not per form. I don't
recall which district it was binding in, and didn't look up the case
itself, so I don't know if it was used to charge somebody $800 for not
answering all 8 questions, or $100 for not answering one of the
questions though they answered the rest, or what. The US Code Annotated
(look in the index under the Census Act) has the reference to the case,
which you can then look up in the cases from that district. It doesn't
set a national precedent because it wasn't a Supreme Court case. 
Libertarian Party position on the 1990 census 
The platform says (in the Protection of Privacy plank): 
So long as the National Census and all federal, state, and other
government agencies' complilations of data on an individual continue to
exist, they should be conducted only with the consent of the persons
from whom the data is sought. 
Here's a press release from some Libertarian congressional candidates: 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: June Genis (415) 851-5224
or (415) 723-4422
Congressional Candidate Protests Census Penalties 
Redwood City --June Genis, who is opposing Tom Lantos in the 11th
Congressional District on the Libertarian ticket, has indicated that she
will not fully comply with the 1990 census as a protest against the
current criminal penalties for non-compliance. Genis says that while she
is "proud to stand up and be counted" that she will answer only the
head-count questions and leave all others unanswered. 
"Many of the questions asked on the census are harmless and I expect
most people, including myself, would probably not mind answering them
for anyone. But other questions are very invasive of personal privacy
and I do not believe that anyone should be subjected to hundreds of
dollars in fines for failing to answer them or for giving incorrect
answers". She also noted that the sixth of the population which will be
required to complete the long forms are being asked to invest several
hours of unpaid labor on behalf of the government which will then turn
around and sell the results to private companies. "Why should any
Americans be forced to become market research subjects against their
will and without compensation?" 
Genis also noted that despite the vigorous, and likely expensive,
advertising campaign to convince us of the confidential nature of census
responses, it was census data that helped to round up Japanese Americans
for the Word War II internment camps. "No, the Census Bureau did not
tell the internment team that Mr. Yamaguchi lives at 123 Main Street,
but they did supply the information that exactly five Japanese Americans
live on the 100 block of Main Street which made it very easy for them to
know where to go and how many bodies they should be able to collect on
each street." 
Pointing out that although the Constitution empowers Congress to conduct
a census for the purpose of apportioning representation, there is
nothing there which empowers them to demand answers to any questions
they chose to ask. "Yet", says Genis, "they have taken the position that
it would perfectly all right for them to compel you to enumerate what
weapons you own or what illicit substances you consume and pretend that
this would not be a violation of your constitution rights just because
they won't divulge any individual answers. We have already heard
proposals to create concentration camps for drug users and to seize all
privately owned semi-automatic weapons. There is simply no way to tell
how the answers that people supply today might be used against them in
the future". 
One person's approach to the American Housing Survey 
Date: Mon, 26 Mar 90 22:12:31 EST
From: alang@trashbin.MV.COM (Alan Groupe) 
As we are now starting to receive our 1990 census forms, I thought some
of you might like to know about the experience I had this time last year
with a similar survey from the census bureau, called the American
Housing Survey. 
In April of 1989, Nancy Butter rang my doorbell and asked me to answer
several questions about my house, my neighbors, my neighborhood, etc.,
under the guise of something called the American Housing Survey. I told
her I was not interesting in participating and after a moderate length
discussion on how important this was and how I would be throwing off all
the statistics, she left me a 6 page brochure describing the survey and
told me that I would be receiving a letter from the Regional Director,
an Arthur G. Dukakis. 
[As it turns out, Arthur IS related to Michael -- he's a cousin, I
I received the following letter, dated April 17: 
Dear Mr. Groupe: 
We recently visited you and asked that you participate in the American
Housing Survey. The U.S. Bureau of the Census is conducting this sur-
vey in many metropolitan areas for the Department of Housing and Urban
Development. This survey is conducted under the authority of Title 12,
Section 1701Z-1 and 2g of the United States Code. 
You indicated to the interviewer who visited you that you did not wish
to participate in this survey. This survey is so important that we hope
that a further explanation will cause you to reconsider your decision. 
The primary purpose of the American Housing Survey is to provide cur-
rent information on the size and composition of housing in your area. We
ask questions about the housing people live in, the age of the
buildings, the presence of selected facilities in your home, and the
adequacy of neighborhood services. 
In a society as complex as our, it is necessary that our nation's
decision makers be as well informed as possible in order to make the
decisions that affect the lives of us all. The job of the U.S. Bureau of
the Census is to be provide [sic] our national and local government
leaders, as well as our business leaders, with statistical information
on various aspects of our society. 
Any information provided for this survey is confidential, by law, under
Title 13, Section 9a, United States Code. No information which would
identify an individual will be released. Your answers will be used only
to prepare statistical summaries. Our interviewers and out office staff
have been sworn to confidentiality and I can assure you that the record
of the U.S. Bureau of the Census is unblemished. You will, by
participating make a valuable contribution to the knowledge of the
nation's housing. In the future, when you see or hear housing
statistics, you will know that you helped in the preparation of these
figures. I trust that we can rely on you to help. 
Our representatives will call on you again within the next few days. 
Arthur G. Dukakis
Regional Director 
I responded with the following letter: 
Dear Mr. Dukakis, 
Recently, one of your field interviewers visited me and requested that I
donate my time -- I presume that I'm paying her for hers -- to
participate in the American Housing Survey. She then handed me a fact
sheet so that I might know what this survey is about. 
According to the fact sheet, this information will be used to assist the
federal government in establishing a national housing policy. Since it
is my fervent belief that the only proper housing policy would have no
role for government, and since I do not believe that this is the type of
policy the American Housing Survey is intended to engender, I could not
in good conscience comply with your request. 
You then sent me a letter asking me to reconsider, based on all the
nice, wonderful things government does with all the information it
collects. In your letter you stated, "In a society as complex as ours,
it is necessary that our nation's decision makers be as well informed as
possible in order to make the decisions that affect the lives of us
I couldn't disagree with you more. In a society as complex as ours, it
is necessary that our nation's decision makers STOP MAKING SO MANY
DECISIONS that affect the lives of us all. 
In closing your letter to me you indicated that once again you would be
sending an interviewer to talk to me. It angers me greatly that you are:
1) collecting data for an inappropriate purpose; 2) asking me to donate
substantial amounts of my time to assist you (I remember the virtual
novel your department asked me to fill out in 1980); 3) spending MY
hard-earned money to do so; and 4) ignoring my wishes by sending out a
second interviewer after I believe I made it clear that I did not wish
to participate. 
Maybe when the government learns that it is not entitled to the services
of its citizens, people like me would be more willing to cooperate. But
until such time, I wouldn't hold my breath. 
Alan Groupe 
I didn't hear anything more from them. 
-- Alan Groupe | Data: (603) 672-9662
2 Great Brook Road | Cserve: 73607,2241
Milford, NH 03055 | uucp: decvax!ubbs-nh!trashbin!alang
(603) 672-9155 |

A Japanese-American view of the census 
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 90 14:58:40 PDT
From: Ed Hall 
Well, I believe I read it in Pacific Citizen, the weekly newspaper of
the Japanese American Citizen's League. My wife probably threw out the
edition I was thinking of--it would have been in mid-March. Needless to
say, the issue does come up. More recently, the JACL joined with other
Asian-American groups in a strong effort to get Asian-Americans to be
counted. (This edition we still have: April 6, front page). 
Your assertion is quite correct, though, if you change the word
``block'' to ``tract.'' But, then, anyone can obtain such information.
You can even get tract data on CD-ROM these days. 
The history of the wartime internment is chock full of reasons not to
trust government agencies, Congress, the President, or even the Supreme
Court. Read Michi Weglyn's ``Years Of Infamy'' for a hard-hitting,
well-documented history. The ``Justice'' department comes out looking
particularly bad; it fought against justice for interned
Japanese-Americans well into the '60s. There is absolutely no mention of
the Census Bureau, though. Various intelligence agencies had been spying
on the Japanese-American community for almost a decade before the war.
They already knew where they were. What's worse, they already knew that
the chance of any problems with that community were slim-to-none. 
My mother-in-law spent the war in a camp in Arkansas; my father-in-law
fled with his family to central Utah, where he spent the war until he
was old enough to enlist. They were both originally from the San Jose
area. Unlike some Nisei, they've talked about their experiences with
their children--and with their children-in-law. This sort of thing isn't
a forgotten issue with us. 
I see no reason to slander one of the few government organizations which
*wasn't* involved. 
Wall St. Journal article: Honesty may not be your best census policy 
By James Bouvard
Wall St Journal 8-Aug-89 
Next year, the Census Bureau will conduct the nation's 21st decennial
census. Ironically, whil the bureau collect masses of information partly
to justify expanding various welfare programs, many poor people will be
victimized by the answers. While many liberal groups are worryied about
how the census will count the homeless, no one is paying attention to
how the census could create new homeless. 
The census forms next year will ask up to 59 compulsory questions per
household, depending upon whether it receives a long or short form. They
will include up to 26 questions on housing -- type of building,
approximate number of units in the building, monthly rent or mortgage
payments, whether solar energy is used, etc. Anyone who refuses to
answer any question can be fined $100. 
Each household will receive an official notice with its census form next
March: "Although your answers are required, the law guarantees privacy
... The only people allowed to see your answers to the census are Census
Bureau employees. No one else -- no person, government agency, police
officer, judge, welfare agency -- can see them. It's the law." Federal
law states that "in no case shall [census] information be used to the
detriment of any respondent or other persons to whom such information
Yet, people have been evicted for giving honest census answers. Though
the Census Bureau does not release data on each household, it does
release information on each block -- and a block can have as few as six
houses on it. The average block contains 14 houses. 
According to the General Accounting Office, one of the most frequent
ways city governments use census information is to detect illegal
two-family dwellings. An American Planning Association survey reported
that housing code enforcement was a key benefit of census data for local
For instance, Montgomery County, MD, and Pullman, Washington, use census
data on the nubmer of housing units in a structure to check compliance
with zoning regulations. The Long Island Planning Board uses census
"block counts ... to estimate the extent of illegal two-family home
conversions," according to a June 27, 1986 board letter. Such "illegal"
two-family dwellings are pervasive on Long Island, according to Anthony
Downs of the Brookings Institution. Such crackdowns are especially
unfortunate because, as George Sternlieb of Rutgers University notes
"The biggest source of good-size rental apartments in America is the
illegal conversion of single-family houses." 
Census data help housing inspectors zero in on violators. Bruce Stoffel
of the Community Services Department of the City of Urbana, Illinois,
declared in an Aug 24, 1987 letter to the Census Bureau that he
"routinely used census data to analyze the developmental stage of
neighborhoods to determine the most appropriate public intervention
strategies (e.g., code enforcement). 
Obviously, the people most likely to live in overcrowded situations are
poor people, especially immigrants, who often cluster in the same
neighborhood. Housing codes have long been used as a means to "keep out
undesirables" and to exclude waves of newcomers. William Tucker, author
of the forthcoming "The Excluded Americans" notes: "code enforcement has
always been a very counterproductive way of trying to help the poor. It
usually sacrifices the adequate in favor of the ideal. 
The Census Bureau denies responsibility for the eviction of poor people
because the bureau does not release the precise names and addresses of
housing code violators. It makes a similar argument about events that
occurred in 1942, when the Census Bureau provided the Army with a list
of exactly how many Japanese-Americans lived in given neighborhoods,
making it easy to round them up for internment during World War II. 
Census Bureau spokesman Ray Bancroft insists that this was not a breach
of confidentiality because the Bureau did not give out the names or
exact addresses of Japanese-Americans. This is like someone claiming he
bears no responsibility for setting loose on your block a wolf that just
happens to gnaw on your leg -- simply because he didn't set the wolf
free at your doorstep and tell the wolf to bite you personally. 
The IRS in 1983 attempted (largely unsuccessfully) to combine census
data with private mailing lists in order to track down people who don't
file income taxes. As computer technology advances, the ability of the
IRS to "abuse" census data will increase. As David Burnham, author of
the forthcoming "The IRS: A Law Unto Itself", says: "The IRS will try it
again. As marketing lists become more complete and accurate, the IRS
will become more able to combine them with census information to track
people down." 
Information on race and home ownership is used to discover allocations
of housing units that are discriminatory under the Civil Rights Act of
1984. Oxnard Park, California, uses census data to discover areas where
landlords illegally discriminate against families with children.
Information on occupations is used by corporations and government
attorneys to construct affirmative-action quotas for different
industries. Information on "place of birth" is used by the Civil Rights
Commission as a baseline for determining discrimination by national
origin. Even though the census is especially innaccurate with regard to
minorities, (who often prefer not to be counted), census data are
increasingly being used to construct proofs of prejudice and
But the more intrusive government becomes, the less information it will
get. The Census Bureau is expecting a sharp decline in the percentage of
households that voluntarily mail back their census forms -- from 83% in
1980 to 78% in 1990. 
A lower response rate will sharply increase the costs of doing the
census. The cost per capita of the census has increased from $121 in
1970 to $1040 in 1990 -- a cost spiral that almost makes the Pentagon
look good. (The total census cost next year is expected to weigh in at
$2.6 billion). [sic -- actual per cap cost is $2600*10^6 / 250*10^6 =
$10.40 -- looks like the decimal points got lost]. 
While most information-intensive industries utilize computers to sharply
lower their costs of operation, the Census Bureau has repeatedly botched
its operations and squandered millions. The bureau will need to recruit
300,000 census takers next year to go around and knock on doors. But,
unless the nation has a major recession between now and then, the
efforts to recruit temporary help could be a big failure, and the entire
census effort could run aground. Recruitment is already running into
difficulty in many areas. 
The more information the government collects on people, the more control
the government will have over people. When there are hundreds of
thousands of pages of federal, state and local rules and regulations,
almost every citizen must be guilty of something. And will millions of
government employees in this nation, there are too many people with an
incentive to abuse government information to fill their quotas of
citations, arrests and investigations. 
Mr. Bovard, a 1980 census taker, is an associate policy analyst for the
Competetive Enterprise Institute. 
What happens if you don't answer 
Subject: Census Compliance
Date: Wed Mar 28 09:34:55 1990
From: Bob Alexander 
| On the bright side, the census official said that compliance in 1980
| ~83% (they send out people to homes to collect the other 17%. He did
| not say what the compliance was after that.)
According to the WSJ, if you refuse to answer they will fill the form
out themselves by asking your neighbors. 

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