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Jim Reilly
Jim Reilly, Attorney
Category: Legal
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Experience:  California lawyer since 1976.
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I received a letter from US Department of Commerce (Census

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I received a letter from US Department of Commerce (Census Bureau) stating I will be receiving a "a very important national survey." It further states I was randomly selected.

It is called "The American Community Survey" which collects personal information. I went to the web site they provided to check into the questions I would be required to answer. I was quite disturbed at many of the questions. I was more disturbed when they advised I was required to answer by law, or face a fine of $500.00.

I request you review the survey questions to determine if, in your professional opinion, many of my constitutional rights are being violated, especially the 4th. Amendment as well as Hippa laws because of personal medical inquiries that I believe go beyond doctor patient confidentiality.

Finally, with the hacking of numerous governmental agencies occurring almost daily, I believe that the information I am required to give would make me extremely vulnerable to identity theft.

I have never heard of this survey and I am flabbergasted at the extent of searching being conducted. Please advise what alternatives I may employ to legally refuse to answer this "witch hunt."

Thank you very much.

Hello n2b9soy6 and welcome to JustAnswer.

The Constitution of the United States (Article 1, section 2, clause 3) authorizes the government to conduct a decennial census. Numerous court decisions have upheld the statutory provisions which have expended the "census" to include the gathering of other statistics. At least one federal court in Texas has specifically held that the questions in the community survey do not violate the 4th Amendments restriction on searches and seizures and does not violate either our free speech or privacy rights. That decision was upheld by the circuit court of appeal and the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

There is no legal means of avoiding this survey. As you have already discovered, completing it is legally required and failure to do so can subject you to both a fine (actually $5000) and possible harassment from the government.

Furthermore, it would be improper for any attorney to advise you to violate the law by not responding to this survey.

All of that said, I can tell you what my attitude in this regard is and what I have done in the past. I have been the head of household for every census 1970 to date. However, I have never completed a census form and when census bureau workers have come to my home, I have refused to answer any question other than how many residents lived there at the time. Several have told me that they would report my refusal to their superiors for "further action", but I have never heard anything from anyone about such "further action".

I did receive the 2000 version of the American Community Survey. I shredded it. In response to a follow up telephone call, I told the caller that the information they wanted was none of their business and that I would not under any circumstances answer any of the questions contained in that survey. I then hung up and never heard anything further about it.

I am not suggesting that anyone else follow my example.

However, as noted in an investigation by the newspaper The Orange County (CA) Register, no one has ever been fined for failing or refusing to complete this survey. See:

Hope that helps. If you have any other questions about this, please let me know.

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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

If I refuse and they go away that is fine with me.

If they want to force the issue, would they have to go through some due process or just levy a fine ?


This is like "Brave New World."


Refusal to answer the questions is a criminal offense for which you could be prosecuted. If the government chooses to prosecute, you would have the full range of due process rights that apply in criminal proceedings. They cannot just "levy a fine" without affording you an opportunity to defend against the charge and the imposition of the fine.

I agree with your comment about "Brave New World", except that this issue (the census and community survey) is just the tip of the governmental iceberg that is intruding on our privacy and obliterating our personal rights.
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