Consumers challenge US community survey and fines if they refuse to participate

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Residents of Washington and California have filed a class action proposal in which they object to being asked to participate in the American Community Survey, which asks for certain demographic details more specific than those are at the heart of the decennial census.

The 22-page lawsuit against U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Census Bureau Director Robert Santos says that unlike the normal ten-year census, the annual American Community Survey asks “detailed and personal” questions about a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity. , fertility history, marital status and divorce history. Additionally, the roughly 100-question survey asks about private health information and how much taxes and utility bills a household pays, and even “how many beds, cars, and washing machines the household has”, relays the complaint.

Both plaintiffs dispute that, unlike the 10-year census, the American Community Survey is asked a sample of a few million households each year, and those who refuse to answer the questionnaire are “subject to fines of up to ‘at $5,000 per question’. The case argues that the Federal Census Bureau lacks the statutory and constitutional authority to compel plaintiffs and proposed class members to answer “detailed and intrusive questions” from the American Community Survey.

“[The plaintiffs] have in the past and will continue in the future to respond to the decennial census,” the suit states. “But they object to the very detailed and personal information demanded in the American Community Survey and have refused to answer it. As a result, they are subject to monetary fines for doing nothing more than keeping the details deprived of their private lives.

Each complainant claims to have been visited by Census Bureau officers and told that their response to the American Community Survey is required by law. Consumers argue in the complaint that although defendants claim to have the legal power to compel citizens to respond to the survey, permission to “collect” information does not equate to power to compel the production of information. information, in particular when this information is not necessary. for the decennial census.

“Both statutes … give defendants at most the power to make a post-census statistical adjustment to ensure the accuracy of the decennial census,” the suit argues. “They do not give defendants unlimited power to compel plaintiffs to provide personal information or opinions to defendants.”

Similarly, the plaintiffs dispute that nothing in the federal code allows a fine for refusing to respond to the American Community Survey to be considered a criminal offense.

Overall, the lawsuit says that “[n]Nothing in these statutes gives the defendants the power to compel the plaintiffs to speak when the plaintiffs invoke their First Amendment right to refrain from speaking by refusing to respond to the American Community Survey.

The lawsuit aims to include all people whom the Department of Commerce and the United States Census Bureau require to answer the American Community Survey but who have refused or will refuse to answer it.

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