Issues Library—Privacy

U.S. Census


Is the Census Constitutional?

When many Americans receive the census questionnaire in the mail, they are unnerved by the number and detail of the questions asked. This has led various individuals and blogs to decry the U.S. Census as “unconstitutional!” However, a close examination of the Constitution reveals otherwise. Article 1, section 2, clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to take a nationwide population census every 10 years. At minimum, such data is necessary to determine the number of seats each state occupies in the House of Representatives.

What is the History of the Census?

The first census was taken in 1790, and included the following questions:

  • Name of the head of the household.
  • Number of persons living in the household.
  • Number of free white males who are 16 years old or older living in the household. (This question was to determine the number of young men who were available to be drafted into wars. It also determined how many young men were available to work in the industrial work force.)
  • Number of free white males who are under the age of 16 living in the household.
  • The sex and race of all of the other persons living in the household.

The decennial census saw its first change in 1820, when it was revised to include occupational information. It is interesting to note that even from the very first census distributed, the survey contained questions about things such as race and age (which may seem personal). This is because the census has always been a tool to measure our country’s demographics.

What is the Census Like Now?

The census now includes questions to gather information about topics such as schools, taxes, crime, and wages; information on housing conditions; and data on mortality. The U.S. Census Bureau states that these questions help the government determine how to allocate $400 billion to communities around the country for infrastructure and services such as hospitals, schools, bridges, tunnels, and emergency services.

Will My Answers be Kept Private?

HSLDA receives many calls and emails from homeschool families who are concerned about protecting their freedom and privacy. These families are afraid that their census data will be used to bring legal action against them for homeschooling, will undermine their privacy, or will be sold to telemarketing agencies. Thankfully, these concerns are unfounded. Title 13 of the U.S. Code and other federal laws, such as the Confidential Statistical Efficiency Act and the Privacy Act, protect the confidentiality of census information. The disclosure or publishing of names, addresses (or GPS coordinates), Social Security numbers, and telephone numbers is strictly illegal and punished with a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both. The Census Bureau only uses the information to produce statistics, and the answers cannot be used against citizens by government agencies or courts.

What if I Don’t Want to Fill out the Census Survey?

If you either refuse to fill out the survey questionnaire or give false information, you are subject to fines of up to $1,000, up to a year in prison, or both under Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

What is the American Community Survey?

In the wake of the 2000 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau introduced the American Community Survey. This survey, which has been given general authority under Title 13 by congressional funding, is a pilot project. It is an ongoing survey sent to a sample of the population. The Census Bureau calls this important because it will give them an idea of what the population looks like, how it lives, and help them to determine where to allocate resources. Many homeschoolers are suspicious of the personal and detailed questions in this survey. Like the census, the information in the American Community Survey is kept private, and citizens are subject to fines and prison sentences if they refuse to comply.

 Related HSLDA Articles
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Issue Analysis: The American Community Survey
May 2007


Congress Introduces Legislation to Make American Community Survey Optional
March 11, 2011


U.S. Census 2010 Update
February 26, 2010


HSLDA Examines the American Community Survey
May 15, 2007


The U.S. Census Requirements for Homeschoolers
September 25, 1999
 Helpful Reading from Outside Sources
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2010 U.S. Census


U.S. Census Bureau’s Website


The American Community Survey’s Website


Article from the Brookings Institute on the American Community Survey
November 30, 2004


Article from the Rutherford Institute on the American Community Survey
September 13, 2004

 Archives
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The Court Report on the 2000 Census
January/February 2000