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Jewish World Review April 3, 2000 /27 Adar II, 5760

Don Feder

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Senseless bureau attacks privacy rights -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and other congressional Republicans are doing something useful for a change -- urging citizens not to answer census questions they consider to be an invasion of their privacy. On the long form, that would be 52 out 53 questions, everything except the number residing in your household.

The census isn't the dumbest thing the federal government does, or the most wasteful, or the most immoral. But it's intrusive, and expensive ($6.8 billion for the 2000 census), and unconstitutional.

But isn't a decennial census mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution? Article I authorizes Washington to take a head count every 10 years to apportion seats in the House of Representatives -- period. It does not give the Census Bureau the authority to inquire about your race, the number of bedrooms in your home or how long it takes you to get to work.

To encourage compliance with this indignity, the bureau is employing a tried and true elitist technique -- inducing guilt.

One of its TV ads shows a class meeting in a janitor's closet. Message: If you don't fill out your senseless form, the feds won't know how much aid to direct to your school district and students at the Millard Fillmore Elementary School will receive instruction in a windowless cubicle.

It's true, some of the data collected is used to distribute $2 trillion a year in federal largess. If you like the idea of Washington taking 22 percent of your income and doling it out in the form of welfare, subsidies and grants of various sorts, then of course you'll want to facilitate its acts of plunder and redistribution by completing your census form ASAP.

It isn't just your money, but your life that interests them. As Washington has grown from the relatively modest republican institution it was at the beginning of the 20th century to the musclebound ape it is today, its curiosity has increased proportionally.

Now, its appetite for details of our private lives is insatiable . If yours was among the one in six American households lucky enough to get the long form from the census snoops, you were subjected to 53 impertinent interrogatories.

How old are you? What's you race? There are 15 choices here. George Getz, the Libertarian Party's press secretary, sardonically notes that South Africa's apartheid government had only four racial classifications. (His party says a constutional census form could be printed on a postcard.) What's the highest level of education you completed? What do you earn?

Where do you work? How do you get there? How long does it take?

Where do you live? Who lives with you? What's your rent or mortgage payments? What's your house worth? What's the annual cost of utilities? How many kinds of different flowers are there in an English country garden? Just kidding.

Like a blob creature in a sci-fi movie, the census is growing at an alarming rate. The current assault on privacy costs twice as much as the 1990 count.

Where will it end? In 2010, the census long form might include the following: What do you usually eat for breakfast (choices include cereal, eggs or yogurt)? What's you favorite TV show? How many guns do you own? What caliber? Don't you know that's dangerous?

What's your weight? Have you gained or lost weight in the past year? List the fatty foods you consume in a typical week? Do you smoke? Do you exercise? How often?

Did you vote in the last election? If not, don't you know it's your civic duty? If yes, who did you vote for (include third-party candidates)?

Do you subscribe to any publications that disparage the federal government and/or elected officials? List alphabetically. Do you ever have bad thoughts about your government? How bad? How often?

Have you read the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, which enunciates the people's right to revolt when government becomes tyrannical?

If yes, report to one of the following centers for further interrogation.

By statute, the Census Bureau can fine you $100 for refusing to complete your form and $500 for supplying false information. (The provision is never enforced. The bureau doesn't want to publicize non-compliance and lacks an enforcement mechanism.) Even if it did come after you, $100 is a small price to pay in defense of your constitutional rights.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate