Be wary of giving out personal info

Published 1:08 pm Friday, March 4, 2011

To the Editor:

Have you heard of the ACS, the Department of Commerce and U.S Census Bureau’s American Community Survey?

Probably not, because it flies under the radar. It blindsides you.

Unlike the 2010 census, the ACS is not advertised by the government, the media or anyone.  Unlike the 2010 census, which contacts the entire population every ten years, the ACS contacts only 250,000 households each month. The limited distribution means that only 2 percent to 3 percent of households each year learn of it.

Could it be that only myself and 11 other households in Polk County received this offensive survey?

The American Community Survey is addressed to “resident.” It looks like an advertisement or a scam. You receive a letter threatening a $100 to $5000 fine if you do not return the survey. The letter is followed by telephone calls. In some cases an interviewer actually comes to your home, more than once.

I completed the 2010 census promptly and without reluctance. However, the ACS exists without broad public knowledge and is very invasive. The people who know of it are those who receive it. Search online for the American Community Survey.

The ACS requires information about every person (by name) living at your address. What is your name and ethnicity?

What are the dates of your military service? How many times have you been married? What is the date of your last marriage? What time do you leave for work? How many people ride with you? How do you get there?

Who is your employer and what is your position, your job and your duties? What is the type, size and value of your home? How many rooms? How many people? How many acres? What are your monthly mortgage payments: first, second and home equity loans? What is your income, including dividends, rentals, trust distributions, etc.? Do you have any mental, emotional, or physical limitations? And so on.

The lengthy survey demands personal and private information about your finances, physical and mental health, education, insurance, jobs and more. Essentially, it is a life history any identity thief is happy to have.

In this era of computer hackers, lost laptops, and identity theft, why would anyone want those answers anywhere near each other? Do you have confidence that your personal information will be protected? The ongoing WikiLeaks scandal underscores how vulnerable computerized data files have become. Recently, over 250,000 U.S. State Department confidential documents and thousands of U.S. military classified reports were stolen. WikiLeaks revealed the names of secret foreign intelligence sources and personal information about U.S. military personnel, including social security numbers. Does the Census Bureau have better security than the State Department and the Department of Defense?

Unlike marketing surveys, which sometimes ask for similar information, the ACS is not anonymous or voluntary.

Respond in full or be threatened with a fine of $100 to $5,000. Unlike applications which require personal information to qualify for a driver’s license, credit card, loan, employment, etc., there is no exchange, no associated benefit. Only a demand for compliance.

In my opinion, the “survey” is too unknown, too comprehensive and the respondent too identifiable to justify forced compliance – let alone millions of taxpayer dollars to publish and implement the ACS.

Also, the law authorizing the Census Bureau to collect information did not include the specific questions in the ACS. As it stands, the ACS is secretive, threatening, invasive and would likely be declared unconstitutional if challenged in court.

I am disappointed and dismayed that our elected representatives have given unelected bureaucrats a “blank check” to interrogate citizens under threat of fines. Most of you will probably not receive the ACS, but it is a threat to the basic rights guaranteed by our Constitution.  The fact that so few people know of a “survey” which creates such a detailed personal profile speaks volumes.

The government does need to collect information, but not this way. It is very likely that many congressmen have not read the ACS questionnaire, just as some vote for bills they never read.   If you believe, as I do, that the ACS steps too far into the lives and privacy of citizens, contact your representative and senators and voice your concern and opposition.

Help prevent a creeping erosion of privacy rights. Help prevent the broadening power of unelected bureaucrats intent on expanding their fiefdoms.

–– Victoria Grant