© 2017 The Rutherford Institute
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. As such, 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 (ACS) 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. 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 monetary penalties. Although no reports have surfaced of individuals actually being penalized for refusing to answer the survey, the potential fines that can be levied for refusing to participate in the ACS are staggering. For every question not answered, there is a $100 fine. And for every intentionally false response to a question, the fine is $500. Therefore, if a person representing a two-person household refused to fill out any questions or simply answered nonsensically, the total fines could range from upwards of $10,000 and $50,000 for noncompliance. More