- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

Although raw data about Arab communities compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau is public information, any interpretation of that data by the bureau now will require authorization from a high-ranking census official before being released.

The move comes in response to requests by civil liberty and privacy advocates who complained that the Census Bureau gave a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency data on residents of Arab descent. A lower-level employee of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requested the interpreted data to determine placement of Arabic-language airport signs.

Bill Anthony, CBP spokesman, said the signs were being considered because there is a widespread problem with Arab travelers coming into and out of the country carrying $10,000 or more in cash, which must be declared to customs officials.

The census information the CBP received was not useful, however, and was destroyed, Mr. Anthony said.

Census spokesman Mark Tolbert said the review policy has been enacted so that requests from agencies with law-enforcement or intelligence officers are reviewed by high-level associate directors.

“To the greatest extent possible, we will point folks to publicly accessible data on the Web site,” Mr. Tolbert said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Privacy Rights Clearinghouse said in an Aug. 5 letter to Charles Louis Kincannon, director of the Census Bureau, that the reasons for the information request raise further questions.

“Why, in determining how to allocate translated signage, would DHS only be interested in the population of Arab speakers?” wrote Barry Steinhardt of the ACLU and Beth Givens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. “There are, of course, a large number of language minorities in this country.”

Mr. Anthony said similar signs in Spanish are in place in many U.S. airports.

Privacy advocates urged the Census Bureau to adopt procedures to guard sensitive tabulations and data to protect the agency’s reputation.

“The collection of information about individuals’ racial and ethnic background in the Census serves many important policy goals, but the risk that citizens will not trust the Census Bureau with their information will grow if the bureau does not handle this issue with the utmost care,” Mr. Steinhardt and Mrs. Givens said in the letter.

“We understand that the Census Bureau’s cooperation with DHS may have been within the law; however, no law appears to have compelled the bureau to provide this information, and we believe that the decision to do so violates the spirit of trust held by millions of Americans that the information they furnish on the Census will not be used against them by law enforcement agencies,” the letter said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide