The Census Bureau is the government, and Congress is the government

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From: Rodent of Unusual Size (Ken.Coar@Golux.Com)
Date: Mon Dec 11 2000 - 08:05:26 PST


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Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 19:28:39 -0700
From: Jon Callas <>

Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 16:51:50 -0700
From: Dan Wing <>
Subject: My Data, Mine to Keep Private

October 23, 2000

My Data, Mine to Keep Private


WASHINGTON -- I was one of those paranoid Americans who chose not to answer
all questions on the long form of the 2000 census. My husband and I decided
that the government did not need to know, or had other ways of finding out,
what time we left for work, how much our mortgage payment was or the amount
of our income that came from wages. We were willing to risk the $100 fine
to take a stand for individual privacy in an increasingly nosy and
automated age.

Editorial writers across the nation chided people like us for being so
silly, insisting that only right-wing nuts with delusions of jackbooted
federal invaders could possibly object to the census. Think of all the poor
women who need day care and disabled people who depend on public
transportation, we were told. And don't listen to the warnings of Trent
Lott, the Senate majority leader -- they're just another Republican ploy to
get a low count on the census.

Now, however, my concerns don't appear quite so ridiculous. The
Congressional Budget Office, with the surprising help of some Congressional
Republicans, is angling to get its hands on Census Bureau files. The budget
office wants to create a "linked data set" on individuals -- using
information from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security
Administration and Census Bureau surveys -- to help it evaluate proposed
reforms in Medicare and Social Security.

Under current law, census data on individuals can be used only to benefit
the Census Bureau, which has balked at turning over files to the budget
office without greater assurances of individual privacy. However, the
Congressional number crunchers are not taking no for an answer. Republicans
may tack an amendment allowing Congress access to census data onto an
appropriations bill before Congress adjourns for the elections.

The records the budget office wants are not themselves from the 2000
Census; they are voluntary responses to monthly surveys, with
confidentiality promised. Forcing the bureau to give them up would set a
disturbing precedent. Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta, who supervises the
Census Bureau, warned Congress this month that amending the census law
would "seriously compromise" the department's ability to safeguard
taxpayers' privacy and "to assure continued high response rates of the
American public to census surveys."

Chip Walker, a spokesman for Representative Dan Miller, a Florida
Republican who chairs the House subcommittee on the census, sees no problem
with congressional access to census data. "The Census Bureau is the
government, and Congress is the government," he said.

Well, that's exactly what I'm afraid of. It's not surprising that a federal
agency that stockpiles information would be raided by other federal
agencies. If Congress changes the census law, the government will be well
on its way to becoming another, which abruptly and retroactively
weakened its privacy policy this year. I expected as much, because I don't
believe either the government or businesses when they promise me privacy.
That's why I routinely lie about personal information when applying for
shoppers' discount cards and the like. And it's why I don't answer invasive
questions on census forms. Keep your hands off my data set.

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