The US Census -- Betrayal of Trust
The United States of America census 2000 project tells Americans that the census is required by the US Constitution and that the personal questions they ask are needed to implement US law and to provide statistics for government spending programs. They tell residents that their answers are confidential. Many Americans have trusted the census and sent in forms and answered questions to census workers who knocked on their doors.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Census officials have waged a campaign during the past year to convince Americans to cooperate with the census and answer all the questions, even the personal ones. There has been a massive campaign in Hispanic areas, telling Spanish-speaking residents it is important for them to be counted. They told people that census data are kept private and that census workers can be trusted.
But that trust has been betrayed, both by police and by census workers. There is a report of a census worker telling the police about illegal Hispanics hiding in homes. According to a report, an incident took place on April 9, 2000, in Jackson, Mississippi. A census worker called the police, accusing the residents of hiding an undocumented alien.
The other type of betrayal is when the police exploit people's trust in the census by posing as census workers. This was reported in Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul) on June 30, 2000.
According to the Star Tribune story, on June 6, two St. Paul police officers investigating an alleged drug house posed as U.S. census workers. The two officers had talked to a resident who complained about an alleged drug house on St. Paul's East Side. A report filed the day of the incident says that the two officers, posing as census workers, went to the alleged drug house and asked for information about who lived at the house. Later, officers executed a search warrant at the house and arrested four people.
On July 1 the Star Tribune reported that the St. Paul police chief and the mayor agreed it was wrong for the two police officers to have posed as census workers. But had the police been instructed earlier never to pose as census workers? Why did this occur, and has is occurred elsewhere? Why were these police officers so cavalier about exploiting the trust in the United States census?
Trust has been betrayed not just for census workers but also for public defenders hired and paid by the government to defend the poor in court cases. At the request of census officials, public defenders encouraged their clients to cooperate with census workers. Because of the abuse of that trust by the police, public defenders now fear they have lost their clients' trust.
An FBI agent also attempted the practice of exploiting the public's trust in the census. The Washington Post reported in February that census officials in Texas rejected the FBI agent's demand for a census worker badge and other identification in order to impersonate a census employee.
When government officials impersonate census workers or when census workers inform on those whom they are counting and gathering information about, it shows that worries about census intrusions were well warranted. Americans who refused to cooperate with the census, despite penalties for doing so, evidently had good reason to fear these government agents. The police, the FBI, and even census workers have exploited the public trust in the census.
It is not just these individual government officials that betrayed the public trust, but their supervisors and ultimately not just the top officials but the whole structure of government. If the chiefs of the FBI, the police, the census, and ultimately the Congress and Chief Executive, really cared about the public trust of the census and were concerned to preserve that trust, they would emphatically lay down the law that no police or other government agent should in any way impersonate a census worker, nor should any census worker abuse his position to provide information to the police or other government agencies. Any such violations would be illegal, severely punished, and dealt with promptly and publicly.
Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. Nobody knows how many such cases have occurred without any reporting. So now when somebody comes knocking at your door and claims to be a census worker, there is no way to know if that person is really a police officer, let alone a thief. And it is possible that this census worker is doubling as a police officer and checking for illegal residents or perhaps peeking for clues about illegal drugs.
Trust in the US census has been betrayed. Will government do anything to restore it?
-- Fred Foldvary
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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.