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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thank God the Government is Protecting My Identity

It’s time to change the waiting period for the release of personal data from the Federal Census. There is currently, by law, a waiting period of 72 years before personally identifiable information is available in order to “protect the confidentiality of personal information” (quoting the Census Bureau). This law is based roughly on the average life span.
In the eighteenth century the census was the only centralized source of data on citizens. It is far from that today. Why this information needs to be protected for the life of the individual giving it is a mystery to me.
The primary purpose of the census, as described in the Constitution’s Section 2, Clause 3, is to adjust congressional representation (reapportionment). It has also come to include the allocation of about $400 billion in funds to other jurisdictions and public projects. This is done through the aggregate data, the personal data is irrelevant. Aggregate data is usually analyzed and released within two years.
In the 2010 Census, the personal information requested (paraphrased here) comprised ONLY TEN QUESTIONS:
How many people live in this home?

Are there any additional people staying here (e.g. relatives, roommates, live- in employees)?

Is this a house, apartment, or mobile home?

What is your telephone number?

What is the first and last name of each person living in the home?

What is the sex of each person?

What is the age and birth date of each person?

Are any of the people living here of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?

What is the race of each person?

Does anyone listed sometimes live elsewhere (e.g. at college, in the military, in jail)?

The information collected on this census is less personal - by far - than what you are required to surrender in many other arenas of society.
Consider this:
1. Have you ever applied for a credit card? The application frequently requires more “sensitive” information than the census gathers. It also requires you to state your income, and sometimes your employer and years of service.
2. Have you ever applied for a home loan? Your credit rating is available to most credit grantors as well as potential employers.
3. Millions of Americans have applied for unemployment insurance or public assistance. Those applications require much more detailed, sensitive information than the census gathers.
4. Have you ever “Googled” yourself (or anyone)? The information that can be accessed is scary. People even voluntarily publish personal information on social media (e.g. facebook) - including pictures!

What confidential personal information still remains? Very little, I’m afraid. Certainly those 10 little questions on the census don’t represent any additional threat to your privacy. So, lawmakers, when the 1940 Census’ personal information is released in April 2012, CAN’T WE ALSO GET THE 1950 AND 1960 INFORMATION RELEASED AS WELL? After all we, the taxpayers, paid $11 Billion for last year’s Census. We want our money’s worth. Family historians and genealogists will be very grateful.

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