Citizens, gov't officials sound off on controversial survey

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - viewers and U.S. congressmen weighed in on the constitutionality of a controversial survey.

Right now, many people say the American Community Survey, issued by the Census Bureau every year, contains pages of tedious, invasive questions.

It goes out to millions of homes, and if you don't answer the questions, you can face fines or jail time.

When Newschannel 3 spoke to the Census Bureau on Friday, the most important thing we asked for was an explanation of their constitutional authority to demand answers to these types of questions.

The short version of the answer was 'Congress gives us the power,' but Newschannel 3 learned that isn't entirely true.

When the Census Bureau responded to Newschannel 3 Friday afternoon, a press aide explained how essential and important the American Community Survey is--not unlike the message at the ACS help line.

But for many, including WMU Cooley Law School Professor Curt Benson, how useful the information can be is not the question.

"The question is, is this survey constitutional," Benson asked.

Jared Kirtley, a viewer who responded to our story on Twitter would likely argue 'no.'

He claims an ACS specialist threatened him and his family.

"Said that if I don't turn this in that she's going to turn me in," he said. "That they would probably come out and arrest me if I didn't fill it out."

Congressman Bill Huizenga told Newschannel 3 that the ACS is a prime example of government overreach, that the survey should be made voluntary, and the penalties waived.

"Frankly, the last thing residents across West Michigan need is a federal official showing up at their house asking invasive questions about their private lives," Huizenga said.

Benson says asking is fine, but demanding is not.

"If this is unrelated to the Census, I don't see where they have the authority to penalize people," he said.

We also reached out to Congressman Fred Upton Friday.

He couldn't get back to us himself, but an aide tells us "the House, in May, approved an amendment to make answering the American Community Survey voluntary."

This has been attempted before and failed. If it succeeds this time, we'll let you know.