A Woodsboro couple is refusing to respond to a U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, saying the federal government's questionnaire is too invasive.

Now, Bob and Joan Rapier say their lack of response is being met with harassing phone calls from Census employees, one of which threatened a fine of up to $5,000.

“We are being harassed,” said Joan Rapier, 68.

The couple said they received a 28-page questionnaire about two weeks before Christmas. Aside from more innocuous questions like the number of people in the household, the questionnaire seeks answers about home mortgages and income. Joan Rapier said those questions were “offensive to us.”

“Somebody got carried away with this,” said Bob Rapier, 72.

The questionnaire was followed by a call during the holidays inquiring why it had not yet been returned, Joan Rapier said. The caller also tried to encourage the couple to complete the form online, she said. 

Instead, when Joan Rapier told the Census representative that the questions were “too invasive” and “too personal,” adding that they shouldn't have to answer, she said she was threatened with a fine and jail time. She said she then spoke with a supervisor who also urged the couple to respond, adding that the information provided to the Census via the surveys helps communities make decisions about future road and school construction.

“You shouldn't have my personal information to build a road,” Joan Rapier said.

The couple estimated they have received eight to 10 phone calls from the bureau during the last month. Joan Rapier said she has participated in other Census surveys in the past, the last one about 18 months ago.

“This is much more detailed and personal in nature,” she said.

The Census form estimates that it takes about 40 minutes to reply to its questionnaire. Documents received by the couple from the bureau also tell the couple that they are legally obligated to reply.

The Census does not ask respondents for Social Security numbers.

Despite promises by the Census that it keeps respondent information confidential, the Rapiers said they are still worried in light of recent high-profile information breaches. With cases like the National Security Agency spying on residents, they said if the government is looking for information, it can find it on its own using property records and information gathered through the Internal Revenue Service.

Tim Olson, a respondent advocate for the Census, said the questions are “designed to get a picture of the well-being of a community and what their needs are.”

A little more than $4 billion is annually allocated based on the data provided, Olson said. The ACS is sent to about 3.5 million homes annually and has a 98 percent response rate, which Olson called “incredible.” Addresses are chosen at random, he said.

“It's really important that people participate,” Olson said. Census tries to appeal to people's “civic duty” to encourage participation, Olson said.

As for what happens to the 2 percent of surveys that are not returned, Olson said: “we are able to get by.”

Olson said he was not aware of any cases in which people have been charged for failing to respond, but said jail time is not part of the punishment.

Census spokeswoman Jennifer Smits said that while law authorizes the bureau to impose criminal penalties, "we view this approach as a last resort."

"On three occasions, nonrespondents have been prosecuted for failing to answer a census or survey," Smits said. Both she and Census spokesman Michael Cook stressed that the bureau is not an enforcement agency. No one has been prosecuted for failing to respond since the 1970 Census, Cook said.

Olson said he was willing to talk with the Rapiers to encourage their response. The couple declined the request. Instead, they contacted the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland to see if the organization might assist should they face legal challenges.

David Rocah, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland, could not confirm if the organization would take up the Rapier's case. He said the privacy issue "crops up with regularity every time the ACS goes out."

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the Census be taken, and federal law also protects respondent's privacy, Rocah said. The Census has a strong track record of keeping information private, he added.  While privacy concerns "are understandable," it is federal law to respond, Rocah said.

"Our view on all this is that the Census is an important function of the federal government and plays a vital role in democracy, but we also recognize the ... privacy concerns and believe that the answers to most Census questions should be voluntary," he said.

If someone in Maryland were prosecuted, the ACLU "would be very concerned," he added.

If the government does seek to penalize the couple, Bob Rapier said they'd pay it.

“Then we'd have to get a lawyer,” Bob Rapier said. “Then maybe the ACLU will help us.”

Follow Courtney Mabeus on Twitter: @courtmabeus.

On the Web

To view a sample American Community Survey:

(52) comments

surayabay

Can't I just answer the Census questions by saying, "HOAX, WITCH-HUNT!" "NO COLLUSION, NO CORRUPTION, NO CONSPIRACY, THIS I CAN TELL YOU!" And repeat it ad museum! If the President of the United States doesn't have to divulge or release his personal tax, financial and family information, why do I, or anyone else have do?

WIMMPYIII

Here is the easy, pre-written template letter that I encourage you to copy, print and mail with your Census form.

To Whom it May Concern,
Pursuant to Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution, the only information you are empowered to request is the total number of occupants at this address. My “name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, telephone number, relationship and housing tenure” have absolutely nothing to do with apportioning direct taxes or determining the number of representatives in the House of Representatives. Therefore, neither Congress nor the Census Bureau have the constitutional authority to make that information request a component of the enumeration outlined in Article I, Section 2, Clause 3. In addition, I cannot be subject to a fine for basing my conduct on the Constitution because that document trumps laws passed by Congress.
Interstate Commerce Commission v. Brimson, 154 U.S. 447, 479 (May 26, 1894)
“Neither branch of the legislative department [House of Representatives or Senate], still less any merely administrative body [such as the Census Bureau], established by congress, possesses, or can be invested with, a general power of making inquiry into the private affairs of the citizen. Kilbourn v. Thompson, 103 U.S. 168, 190. We said in Boyd v. U.S., 116 U. S. 616, 630, 6 Sup. Ct. 524,―and it cannot be too often repeated,―that the principles that embody the essence of constitutional liberty and security forbid all invasions on the part of government and it’s employees of the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of his life. As said by Mr. Justice Field in Re Pacific Ry. Commission, 32 Fed. 241, 250, ‘of all the rights of the citizen, few are of greater importance or more essential to his peace and happiness than the right of personal security, and that involves, not merely protection of his person from assault, but exemption of his private affairs, books, and papers from inspection and scrutiny of others. Without the enjoyment of this right, all others would lose half their value.’”
Note: This United States Supreme Court case has never been overturned.
Respectfully,
A Citizen of the United States of America

C8H10N4O2

This county is full of nuts.

stevem90999

Actually, if enough people complained, it's possible they won't have to complete this kind of survey. The family here is correct, the government doesnt need to know their mortgage to build a road or anything else. That was just typical u.s. government bureaucratic bullying the government does because civil service workers are evaluated by how many cases they can complete in a day. I know, I used to be one of them.

common_rarity

Good for you, Joan and Bob!

Thefrederickman

Do you suppose that the reporter knew that this is not "The Census" that was last held in 2010? This is; Why did I get an American Community Survey?

"Your address was selected as a part of a sample and represents thousands of other households like yours. We randomly select about 3.5 million addresses each year to participate in the survey.
Do I have to answer these questions?
ACS Sample Mail-in Form
Explore the new interactive ACS form!

Yes. You are legally obligated to answer all the questions, as accurately as you can.

The relevant laws are Title 18 U.S.C Section 3571 and Section 3559, which amends Title 13 U.S.C. Section 221.

Your answers are important. As part of a sample, you represent many other people. Find out how each question helps your community, your state, and the federal government in questions on the form and why we ask.
Why is it mandatory?

Response to the survey is mandatory because the American Community Survey is part of the decennial census, replacing the "long form" that previously was sent to a percentage of households once every 10 years. "


They are legally required to fill it out and there are penalties if they don't. I doubt that the ACLU can help them fighting a legally required task.

kjswartz

I thought the long form was sent to select individuals every decennial census.

whoville2

I don't blame them at all. I wouldn't answer that extensive of a survey either. They did the right thing.

ginger

They could have just asked for the short survey.. At their age surely they've filled out the form before - obviously every ten years! Get over it and fill it out... what do you have to hide?

kjswartz

This wasn't a decennial survey - this was a community activity survey. As there are some people who don't (or won't or can't) assist passengers exiting an airplane in an emergency, there are like minded people who don't (or won't or can't) participate in extraneous marketing surveys.

Since this is our collective government issuing the survey, it seems a little cautious and polite "no, thank you" is appropriate. After all, how do you REALLY know this isn't a Nigerian Credit Scam?

sodalite3

Ginger...it's not that they have nothing to hide. It's that they relegated themselves to a constant diet of Fox Tea Party right wing paranoia. They sit in their recliners each night listening to a witches brew of hatred, bigotry, racism, lies and manufactured "facts" from the spewing simplistic right wing "news" anchors and "commentators". When fed pablum for a long time you can loose you desire for real food. Your brain goes to mush and you start to hear the constant roar of the rotors of the governments black helicopters coming to get you. Sad to be them and their comrades living in constant paranoia and fear.

Solarrays247

[thumbup]

stevem90999

sodalite3: The only witches brew of hatred, bigotry, racism, lies and manufactured "facts" spewing out is from the liberals. Racism is discrimination against any race including ones own. And the liberals definitely use anti-white racism many times. Bigotry is one race thinking it's above any other race. And the liberals do that, too. They feel they are above any whites who dont agree with their liberal agenda. And the hatred, lies and manufactured "facts" come from them as well. They speak for themselves, actually. So, yes, it is sad the liberals live in constant paranoia and fear that people wont go along with their agenda, as has been shown in times past.

ma23464

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

So unless some hair brained judge is going to issue a warrant or something, tell census people to pound sand.
Just because their is a law, doesn't mean it's just. We used to have laws for slavery, and segregation laws. I guess black Americans should have just bowed down and took it, because it was law.

Comment deleted.
pixie-dust

It isn't a census. It is an American Community Survey. Different things.

pixie-dust

The Rapiers remind me of the brave and principled Americans who went to Canada rather than comply with government orders to go to Vietnam.

Comment deleted.
pixie-dust

You make a good point. The Rapiers aren't risking nearly as much.

ma23464

Keep up the good fight bob and Joan.
Here is a hint. Simply answer every question with "none of your business." Then send it back in. Worked for me. I complied with the law, I responded to the survey.

joelp77440

Delusional paranoia of Census workers is as old as our country, actually even older. During the past census over 113 census workers were attacked and 7 died(some accidental,3 were not). This paranoia goes in line with fear of the federal government or some hidden world power. I would guess by this story that the Rapiers are libertarians or members of the Tea Party.

Some of their story is a little questionable ($5,000 fine) but the annoying phone calls and unannounced home visits is a MO of the Census Bureau. FNP, stop posting crazy people rants.

dejaview55

Paranoia is rampant in America,maybe they should smoke some "Weed".

sodalite3

The Constitution gives the Congress the right and privilege to pass legislation and this questionnaire is the result of such Constitutional authority. People who can think past the Fox news inquiry stage are in very short supply in FC....just read some of the postings below. A very sad commentary on the intelligence(?) of the electorate in FC...maybe that's why you got stuck with the likes of Blaine Young and company. Be careful the Black helicopters and drones are on their way.[smile]

Soggybottom

Would you please link any document that shows where Congress has actually authorized all the questions on the forms? You won't find any. The CB has acted on their own and the info is just demographic that is used in marketing. It has very little to do with public service information. Keep following the herd like a good little sheep.

sodalite3

The Congress has passed numerous pieces of legislation authorizing (regulatory) agencies to request/require the development of programs/questionnaires to fulfill federal mandates/laws/Federal Court decisions that are based upon the reduced data developed from the specific information gathered and compiled from, as you seem to think, these intrusive surveys. The result of these surveys are used in programs as diverse as national-state-local land use planning, industrial-transportation planning, air quality monitoring, river/stream quality and pollution monitoring and forecasting, national and local defense initiatives and multi-year forecasting for national/state/and local budget and taxation policy/ planning.

You are welcome to your opinion but your, as I see it, myopia/paranoia/general and specific ignorance, as to the use, legality, Constitutionality and general need for this type of information which allows a multitude of programs to be efficiently, legally and Constitutionally operated is a sad commentary upon your extremely rigid, narrow, sophomoric and all too fantasy driven simplistic view of both our nations changing needs and how the elected government can attempt to solve and deal with the often complex and multi-variant problems of its diverse citizenry.

ALincoln

Wouldn't requiring a US citizen to provide sensitive information about an individuals income and other personal information over their objections be construed as illegal search and seizure? Not breaking into their homes, but technically seizing personal information without consent by the threat of prosecution?

State and local governments may suffer from diminished federal monies by the non-compliance of it's citizenry to participate in the census, but that should be it's own punishment. Does not the Constitution protect the individual over the interests of the state? If not, it should.

kingesquivel

Just fill it out the total opposite of who you really are.

kjswartz

Lying can really get this person into real trouble.
Simply return the form with a short statement.

It sounds like you don't want to voluntarily release personal information, so the Census Bureau should try another participant.

cbabbsport

The very same thing happened a couple of years ago to us. At first we politely declined, they pressed on. Then they would call a couple of times a day, we declined. Then the letters started coming, we ignored. Then, now here's the kicker, I come home from work and there's a fed gov tagged suv in my driveway and there's a lady sitting in my kitchen with my wife. Here in my kitchen was a census worker personally requesting we fill out the census, we declined, she left. I needed to pick something up at the store and left shortly after she did. What do I find, shes sitting on the side of the road on her cell phone, talking to who or about what I don't know. She had left her card and so I decided to call. Her husband answers and I asked to speak with her. She was not there and I asked him to tell her to leave us alone. Here's the real kicker. He goes on to tell me that it just her job, she has a quota to meet and not to take it personally. REALLY! I dug a little deeper and sure enough these holes have the legal authority to request this. I still refused to comply. The government with all it resources could find out the answers to any of the questions on the census form with the information they already have. The whole experience left me extremely distrustful of, at the very leasy, that part of our bloated federal government!

training

So you are a criminal as well, throw the book at him. It is the law and you refuse to comply.

kjswartz

A two couples of years ago was the decennial census survey. It is mandated by the Constitution that we fill those forms out, and there are laws on the books about what questions may be asked.

Everybody participates in those surveys. I find it strange that a community census survey was issued two years later - they usually arrive around the 4th/5th/6th year marks.

Soggybottom

The constitution ONLY authorizes the counting of the population. It DOES NOT give the census Bureau the right to ask all the other questions they ask in the survey. And they do not have the right to pursue it beyond the number of people within the household.

training

There have been additional laws passed in the last 200 years, one of which allows for a $5000 fine. Census should just move on, do they really want to include the data from a couple of Thurmont nut.

Or let's see what is already out there on these two, criminal records, tax records, land records, bet we could paint a pretty good picture of them in about 30 minutes of on line research.

rickwolfe

I just read the Form they are requested to prepare: In my opinion, no worse than filling out applications for application to college, health insurance or welfare, it's not a big deal. Check it out yourself at:
http://www.census.gov/acs/www/about_the_survey/explore_the_form/
For crying out loud, do yourselves and the rest of us a favor and fill out the paperwork. If the questions are seen as too invasive to their psyche, give an answer that tells the Fed why they don't want to provide an answer.



training

So he knows that the government is looking for information, it can find it on its own using property records and information gathered through the Internal Revenue Service, yet he refuses to comply with the law. I bet he is one of those anti immigration guys that says deport them, they violated the law. I would love to see this criminal fined for his crime. Everybody knows that old ratty Thurmont could use a few extra bucks.

You make no sense...The couple is from Woodsboro, not Thurmont. They are not even close to each other (approx. 13 miles apart). Just FYI.

Crustybachelor

I'm sure that they have their aluminum foil helmets on when Marine one flies overhead too.

president8444

Fine for being an American,not for foreigners here. Way off the wall.Dems in charge again.wher are our elected, asleep and just spend.Fill it out and do as you wish,just write not your business.Never heard of this forced paper work on us tax payers.We do taxpaper work enough too.

skjer531

blah blah blah prez's answer to everything

pixie-dust

Not true! Nothing about stadia here.

bkeepr

We had a very similar experience several years ago. It continued and got worse until we finally documented (recorded) a Census agent clearly threatening us at 2 in the morning, and mailed copies of the recording to Cabinet level leadership did it finally end. I suspect their training now includes "don't leave messages on answering machines.'

Up until that point, we got no help or support from our elected "representatives," and nothing but harrassment from Census workers at all levels. Afterwards, their "leaders" were tripping over themselves to appologize...I assume so it would *not* hit the news.

One further note, a little history: the American Communiticy Survey was created by a former Census bureau Director to justify a larger, year-round, workforce and budget for her bureau and had nothing to do with government "need." She made such a good, but false, case for it, that the so-called "requirement" stuck, and has been justified as if it were the once-every-10-year census that *is* required by the Constitution.

penut

Not responding should be jail time. Who do these people think they are, not doing what the gov't demands of them. What's next - I'm not paying income taxes because the funds are used to promote war???

Wayo44Mag

If they (the gooberment) sends one to me it too will be in the trash ! the goobers already have too much of our personal info .. is that not the main reason for OBAMACARE ?????[thumbdown]

shiftless88

So you are not a believer in the Constitution?

darththevader

Where in the Constitution does it mention the questions on the census forms?

sodalite3

The Constitution gives the Congress the right and privilege to pass legislation and this questionnaire is the result of such Constitutional authority....but I bet you really already knew that...didn't you?[smile]

skjer531

these folks beleive in the tea party nothing else

training

If GW Bush was in the White House you would fill it out!

skjer531

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

public-redux

The main reason for OBAMACARE (sic) is so the death panels can make sound decisions. Evidence-based killings instead of relying upon the randomness of crazy people with guns. And the real reason Congress exempted itself from Obamacare is because the NRA didn't want to waste its investment. Far better for Congress to take its chances with crazy people who happen to have guns (although knives or jelly beans are just as deadly) than with the death panels.

skjer531

no its that great patriot act that your hero's bush and cheney shoved down our throats

dejaview55

[offtopic] comment from the Goober in Chief. No comment about Gun Confiscation?

kjswartz

How can a LttE possibly be "Off Topic?"

dejaview55

The goober comment,glass bowl. Wayo the Gunman.

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