2020 census confidential, not shared with law enforcement, says Census Bureau

Posted at 2:00 AM, Sep 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-18 02:00:08-04

The 2020 census is on track, government officials told reporters on Tuesday, and they sought to reassure the American public that any information collected in the population count will never be shared with local or federal law enforcement.

In a news conference in Philadelphia tied to Constitution Day – the Constitution mandates the count be done every 10 years -- Census Bureau officials also said workers have walked some 821,000 neighborhood blocks to ensure addresses in its system are correct.

The massive undertaking has taken on new relevance this year, after President Donald Trump declared that the 2020 census should include a question about U.S. citizenship.

Critics, arguing the census is meant to measure the entire population, not just citizens, called Trump's move an effort to find and track illegal immigrants with the goal of deporting them. They said that could cause some to avoid answering the survey, leading to an undercount that could affect government aid programs, especially in congressional districts represented by Democrats.

The Supreme Court blocked the move, and Census officials said the question will not be included in the 2020 questionnaire meant to measure the population, not just citizens.

But there may be continued anxiety about confidentially, considering the Census Bureau still sends out 3.5 million surveys every year called the American Community Survey (ACS), inquiring about citizenship status and employment.

According to the Census Bureau, this information also is confidential and is collected to “measure the changing social and economic characteristics of the U.S. population.”

The ACS, in addition to the decennial census, is conducted under federal law that protects all information collected.

Because this is the first year the Census Bureau will conduct the census in three ways -- phone, online and mail -- the Census Bureau addressed its commitment to the privacy of the information collected, regardless of how it is collected.

“Even though we are using technical options that we didn’t have before, the commitment to confidentiality, the commitment to protect people’s information hasn’t changed,” said Fernando Armstrong, Philadelphia regional director.

Steven Dillingham, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, also explained that every household will receive a paper ballot if residents do not answer the census by internet or phone.