Survey from Census Bureau raising questions, controversy

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Civil Liberty groups, constitutional law professors, and the Census Bureau are all weighing in on a debate affecting millions around the country, including right here in West Michigan.

The concerns surround a survey issued by the Census Bureau.

Page after page of tedious, invasive questions that many say they don't want to answer--but if you don't, you'll face threats of fines and jail time.

"The level of questions here is really quite staggering," said WMU Cooley Law Professor Curt Benson. "Do you have trouble walking upstairs, what prescription medication do you take, how many toilets in your house...this is just the kind of stuff that people are naturally disinclined to share with anyone much less the government."

Which is why he says Congress dropped these questions from the census in 2000.

"When they dropped the long form and enacted this new program, they created a statute authorizing the census bureau to ask these questions," Benson said. "The question is, does Congress have the authority to require people to answer those questions under penalty of law."

If you call the American Community Survey, a machine will tell you it does.

Viewers and endless online traffic tell us failure to complete it results in harassing phone calls and even home visits threatening fines and jail.

"I don't think Congress has the power to punish you for refusing to provide information unless it's actually part of the original census," Benson said.

He's not alone. The Rutherford Institute issued a 6 page argument "requesting the census bureau immediately cease distribution of the ACS," and all behavior perceived as "stalking or harassing."

"The Rutherford Center, they put together a very cogent, intelligent letter," Benson said. "But there's no authority for it. I mean no federal judge has decided this."

Benson says he wouldn't be surprised if the issue was taken up by the Supreme Court in the not-too-distant future.

A media representative with the Census Bureau promised a response to Newschannel 3 by Friday.