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Everywhere we look these days, we are either being watched, taxed or some bureaucrat is placing another bit of information in our government files. And now with the American Community Survey, the latest census form that hits various households on a continuous basis, the federal bureaucracy is thrusting its expansive tentacles toward us in an attempt to invade every aspect of our lives.


Unlike the traditional census, which collects data every ten years, the American Community Survey is taken every year at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. And at 24 pages, it contains some of the most detailed and intrusive questions ever put forth in a census questionnaire. These concern matters that the government simply has no business knowing, including a person's job, income, physical and emotional health, family status, place of residence and intimate personal and private habits.


The questions, as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has said, are “both ludicrous and insulting.” For example, the survey asks how many persons live in your home, along with their names and detailed information about them such as their relationship to you, marital status, race and their physical, mental and emotional problems, etc.


The survey also asks how many bedrooms and bathrooms you have in your house, along with the fuel used to heat your home, the cost of electricity, what type of mortgage you have and monthly mortgage payments, property taxes and so on. This questionnaire also demands to know how many days you were sick last year, how many automobiles you own and the number of miles driven, whether you have trouble getting up the stairs and, amazingly, what time you leave for work every morning. With the power of government agents under the USA Patriot Act to secretly come into your home and rifle through your personal belongings without a search warrant, it is dangerous to let the government know when you will not be at home.


However, that's not all. The survey combines asinine questions with highly detailed inquiries about your financial affairs. And the survey demands that you violate the privacy of others by supplying the names and addresses of your friends, relatives and employer. The questionnaire also demands that you give other information on the people in your home, such as their educational levels, how many years of school were completed, what languages they speak and when they last worked at a job, among other things.


In other words, you are being told by the government to inform and spy on your family and friends—much like that described by George Orwell in his futuristic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. “The family,” writes Orwell, “had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately.”


While some of the questions may seem to be fairly routine, the real danger is in not knowing why the information is needed or how the government will use it. One obvious concern with all this information, especially that of a financial nature, is when the survey information is matched against the information you have given the Internal Revenue Service on your tax returns. Any discrepancies, intentional or not, will most likely result in an IRS audit of your finances.


Unfortunately, the survey is not voluntary. Answering the questions is not a polite request from the Census Bureau. You are legally obligated to answer. If you refuse, the fines are staggering. For every question not answered, there is a $100 fine. And for every intentionally false response to a question, the fine is $500. Therefore, if a person representing a two-person household refused to fill out any questions or simply answered nonsensically, the total fines could range from upwards of $10,000 and $50,000 for noncompliance.


Rep. Paul recently introduced an amendment that would have eliminated funds for this intrusive survey in a spending bill. He explained on the House floor that such information gathering went much too far in violating the privacy of American citizens: “The amendment,” Paul has said, “was met by either indifference or hostility, as most members of Congress either don't care about or actively support government snooping into the private affairs of citizens.”


There is also another concern with such an intrusive survey. It represents a form of corporate welfare as well as a dangerous wedding of government and business interests into the corporate state. This is true in light of the fact that personal data collected on hundreds of millions of Americans by the government is sold to private businesses. The corporations that pigeon-hole us and hound us at home and the office obviously enjoy such extensive information available from the government. However, it is clearly not the duty of the government, and most taxpayers do not want to subsidize the cost of such market research.


Article I of the U. S. Constitution makes it clear that the census should be taken every ten years for the sole purpose of congressional redistricting. What the founders intended was a simple head count of the number of people living in a given area so that numerically equal congressional districts can be maintained. The founders never envisioned or authorized the federal government to continuously demand, under penalty of law, detailed information from the American people.


However, the founders did not anticipate a massive and meddlesome federal bureaucracy or the daily onslaught of media images and governmental scare tactics that the modern American faces. As a consequence, they did not envision a nation where people would submit to every government demand. Sadly, Americans have become so distracted by the entertainment industry and the political maneuverings of the government that many either do not seem to care or see no hope in resistance.


But free government cannot survive if we do not rekindle the same impulses that drove our forefathers to resist, strive for freedom and draft a Bill of Rights. At the minimum, we have to call our representatives to task and demand that they stop the federal bureaucratic onslaught before it's too late.


Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. He can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.