- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2000

''There are three certainties in life death, taxes and the continuation of the Census Bureau's proud tradition of keeping information it collects about individuals strictly private." So announces the Census Bureau's web page, seeking to assure Americans that they have nothing to fear by opening their lives to the prying of this year's Census.

Regrettably, after seven years of the Clinton administration, some Americans may be a little skeptical about this "trust us we're the government" line. And, considering the Census Bureau's dark history, people have plenty of reason to fear that their answers could be used against them.

In 1942, the Census Bureau made up a special list telling the U.S. Army how many Japanese-Americans lived in each neighborhood in the United States. The Army used the Census lists to send out trucks to round up Japanese-Americans for internment camps during World War II.

Census Bureau spokeswoman Paula Schneider stressed that, because the Census Bureau did not disclose the specific names and addresses of Japanese-Americans, it did not compromise the confidentiality of Census respondents. Ms. Schneider noted, "unfortunately, what was used was data for small geographic areas that showed where the Japanese lived." This is like someone claiming he has no responsibility for setting loose a wolf on your street that just happened to gnarl your leg simply because he didn't set the wolf free at your doorstep and tell the wolf to bite you personally.

Why should Americans believe the Census Bureau would be more trustworthy than the White House? In 1993-94, the Clinton White House illegally requested and received from the FBI 900 confidential background files that the FBI had compiled on Bush and Reagan administration nominees. When news of this abuse surfaced in 1996, Mr. Clinton shrugged off the gross violation of privacy as a "completely honest bureaucratic snafu." Congressional investigators recently discovered the White House had wrongfully refused to turn over thousands of subpoenaed e-mails regarding the use and abuse of the files. No White House official has faced a serious prospect of jail time for breaking 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 relates." But, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, Census responses have also been used for government housing code crackdowns. Responses are especially helpful in allowing local governments to know where to carry out raids for allegedly overcrowded housing. When asked about such uses of Census data, Ms. Schneider replied: "You balance the need for small area data with the possibility that it could possibly be used for purposes for which it was not intended." Such housing crackdowns sometimes appear little more than a pretext to evict blacks, Hispanics, or other low-income people.

The information the Census gathers will help fuel new government interventions. A Census Bureau press release noted that "Race data are required … to assess racial disparities in health and environmental risks." This is part of the Clinton administration's "environmental justice" campaign an effort to portray routine business decisions as part of a racist conspiracy. These policies have helped discourage new factories from locating in areas of high unemployment.

The Census Bureau is also trying to whip up enthusiasm by telling people of all the federal benefits their localities will receive thanks to their cooperation.

The Census has degenerated from a method of counting the population into a scheme for generating grist for the expansion of the welfare state. Information on occupations is used to construct affirmative action quotas for different industries. Information on "place of birth" is used by the Civil Rights Commission as a base line for determining discrimination by national origin. Information on home value and rental levels is used by housing agencies to establish subsidy programs.

Census Director Kenneth Prewitt declared that people's Census answers affect "power, money, group interests, civil rights; in short, who gets how much of what." But the federal government has no right to dictate "who gets how much of what." The Census, by providing reams of information, allows politicians to further manipulate people's lives. The more information government collects, the more control government can exert.

The Constitution mandates that an enumeration of the citizenry be conducted every 10 years in order to apportion seats in the House of Representatives. Citizens should refuse to answer any Census question except for the number of residents at an address. A partial boycott of the Census questionnaire is necessary to safeguard our liberties.

James Bovard is the author of “Freedom in Chains: The Rise of the State & the Demise of the Citizen” (St. Martin’s Press, 1999).

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