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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Don't count on me

A while back I posted about an old junior high school friend who reconnected with my wife via Facebook. He's now a right-wing loon. Today he posted about the census.
I filled out a Census form today - wrote the # of people in our home, sealed it and prepared to mail it - unfortunately, my wife has decided it's important to tell the imperial federal government all sorts of personal information not authorized by the Constitution. Am I being a paranoid wack job?, or does anyone else ...

Yes, you are a paranoid "wack" job. The government uses the census to apportion federal funds. They compile demographics because a whole crapload of useful programs require demographic information.

The government has been asking for detailed information since the mid-nineteenth century. And guess what? It's against the law for the census to share any detailed information with any other government agency. They tabulate the count and then the forms are locked away for 75 years.


Sheesh, a census is central to the storyline of the whole Christian mythology.  I would think you'd be happy because it reminds you of baby Jesus.

Were you this upset about the Patriot Act?


Ah, but then he has to ruin his awesome rant by invoking Godwin.
Why does our government need to know the race and full given names of my children? I'm pretty sure Adolf Hitler compiled that kind of information.

::Headslap::

Yes, Adolf Hitler. And King Herod.  And pretty much every other government on Earth.  And every American President serving during a year ending in 0.  When people no longer get totally whacked out because our President is a black man, then maybe they can stop asking for race on the census form.  That will be a good day.

Frankly, if all the paranoid, delusional nutjobs didn't submit their info, that'd be fine by me.  Maybe we could completely drop them off all government assistance.  I'll bet they'd fill out their forms then.

15 comments:

Rachel said...

"Facepalm."

Eric Haas said...

It’s 72 years, not 75.

Eric Haas said...

Speaking of useful programs requiring demographic information, the census was used in World War II to find Japanese-Americans so they could be placed in internment camps. And during World War I it was used to find draft dodgers.

Ipecac said...

Everything has the potential to be misused. Doesn't mean it's inherently bad.

Eric Haas said...

The point is, it has been misused, and you don’t have to be a paranoid whack job to be concerned that it may be misused again.

Ipecac said...

Given the events of the past 8 years, I can't argue that it's not possible. But it's not likely. There are legal safeguards (did they exist when the Japanese were interred?), and I don't think we're going to go locking up any particular ethnic group again. (If we didn't do it after 9/11, I think it unlikely.)

Eric Haas said...

Yes, the legal safeguards were in place during World War II. They were ignored. And while another mass internment may be unlikely, census data has already been used to profile people as terrorist risks. The number of people who are legally authorized to access individual census information is truly scary, and the Census Bureau has been criticized for its shoddy security measures. The Census Bureau has accidentally placed the individual census data for hundreds of families on the web several times.

Ipecac said...

The Commerce Secretary was just on the Daily Show and when asked about this very question, he said that the same legal restrictions we have today weren't in existence during the Japanese Internment.

Eric Haas said...

There was a restriction on revealing data on individuals in 1942. I wasn’t aware that the privacy laws had been strengthened since then. That doesn’t invalidate my point, however.

Eric Haas said...

I found some more information on this. The restriction on providing individual data was lifted by the War Powers Act of 1942. In August 1943, the Census Bureau provided the names and locations of all persons of Japanese ancestry in Washington, DC to the Treasury Secretary. There were at least five other requests for individual information before confidentiality was restored in 1947. Also, the Census Bureau had the names and Social Security numbers of some 63,000 people posted online for a decade before someone discovered it in 2007. The information was not from census data, but it does show that data can leak out despite laws designed to protect confidentiality.

Ipecac said...

Interesting.

Still, the census is ten questions, none of which is particularly sensitive, all of which have been asked in many prior censuses. the information is useful, Constitutionally mandated and necessary to conduct the nation's business.

I think this is just the typical fear of government stuff you see from the far right.

Eric Haas said...

That only applies to the decennial form mailed out to everyone this year. Add to that the American Community Survey, and SPAN (Social Security Number, Privacy Attitudes, and Notification Experiment) in which people were asked for the Social Security numbers, among other things, just to see if they would object. There are also other surveys. Several years ago, my family was selected for one that required two in-person interviews with the census taker, and several follow-up phone calls over a period of months.

Eric Haas said...

And, no, the information is not constitutionally mandated. The only thing mandated by the Constitution is a count of the population.

Ipecac said...

Lucky you.

Sure, the details aren't mandated specifically. But they were immediately asking for more detail than a "count" in the earliest censuses. (Censi?) In today's incredibly complex society, just a count wouldn't be very useful.

Eric Haas said...

According to Answers.com: “Although a strict Latin plural would be formed as censi, the accepted English plural is censuses”.

Until 1850, the Census only asked for the name of the head of household and a count of those in the household, grouped by age and sex. Slaves were counted separately.

I’m not advocating that we go back to just a count of people in each household. I do think, however, that the census (including all the auxiliary surveys) is more intrusive than it really needs to be.