My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Federal investigation of Census worker?

A civil-liberties group in VA is asking for a federal investigation in the case of one enumerator who reportedly, after being told that the homeowner was unavailable, stuck his foot into a closing door, entered the home, and insisted to the homeowner’s son that he looked Hispanic (even after being told he is half-Chinese.) The civil liberties group is right that there are constitutional concerns regarding a government worker impinging on a home’s privacy in such a way. However, shades of gray have to be admitted. The enumerator is a government employee, yes, but in all likelihood he wouldn’t have been for much longer even if isn’t fired from this. Enumerator training obviously was not effective — but at what point is it his OWN error rather than that of his trainers? We could have a federal investigation into this guy, but we may have an easier time if we just fire one irresponsible guy.

From Charlottesville, VA’s DailyProgress.com:

Local group wants investigation into complaint of agressive Census worker

By TASHA KATES
Published: May 18, 2010

The president of a Charlottesville-based civil liberties group is pushing for a federal investigation into a report of aggressive behavior by a U.S. Census Bureau worker during a visit to an Albemarle County home.

In a letter John W. Whitehead mailed Tuesday to U.S. Rep Tom Perriello, D-Ivy, he writes that the worker may have violated Fourth Amendment rights by entering a family’s home without permission. The worker also asked questions about ethnicities beyond what is required for the census, Whitehead said in the letter.

“For a government agent to enter a private citizen’s home without invitation and against the wishes of the resident not only indicates a trespass but raises grave constitutional concerns,” wrote Whitehead, who is with The Rutherford Institute.

Tony Jones, a Census spokesman, said the agency hadn’t heard of the incident before Tuesday. He said the employee in question still works for the Census Bureau and likely will receive more training.

“We certainly apologize if anyone has been offended by this particular census taker’s actions,” Jones said. “We strive every day to do a better job, and we promise to do better going forward.”

According to White-head’s letter, a census taker came to Susan Broadwa-ter’s home on May 10 to conduct the survey. Broadwater’s 19-year-old son said his mother was unavailable, asked the man to come back and started to close the door.

“The Census Bureau worker, insistent that the son answer the questions, stuck his foot in the door and illegally entered the premises of Ms. Broadwater’s home,” the letter said.

Whitehead’s letter said the worker “began to vigorously question” the teenager about his ethnicity. The employee reportedly told the boy that he looked Hispanic or Latino after being told that the teenager was half Chinese. The man told the worker that no one in the home was Hispanic or Latino, the letter said, but the employee continued to question him about the presence of Hispanic/Latino people in the home.

Broadwater didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment for this story. Jones said that enumerators receive a week of training, during which time they are told to only conduct the questionnaire in the doorway because of concerns about census worker safety.

When asked what census workers are instructed to do when they think a respondent is lying, Jones said enumerators are instructed to use the 10-question form as the script for the interview.

Jessica Barba, Perriello’s press secretary, said the Charlottesville office is getting a Privacy Act consent form from Broadwater so that the congressman’s office can start making inquiries to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the census.

Jones said census workers are supposed to identify themselves, show their ID badges and share the name and phone number of their supervisor with respondents before asking questions. Whitehead said if a census worker tries to enter a person’s home, the person should ask them to leave and contact police if the worker remains.

Anyone who has a complaint or question about the census may call the Charlotte-based regional census center at (704) 936-5300, Jones said.

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