Debra J. Saunders

Census Bureau public information officer Shelly Lowe wants you to know that while you may be reluctant to share personal information with a faceless form, the bureau has strict rules safeguarding individual privacy. Lowe called the bureau "the Fort Knox of data." Any employee who for some reason broke the confidentiality rules could face jail time.

The purpose of the census is to aggregate data so Washington can figure out where to distribute your dollars, not to peek in your underwear drawer.

As for the "mandatory" answers and possible fine of up to $5,000 -- to Lowe's knowledge, no American ever has been fined, even though only 67 percent of Americans participated in the 2000 census. "We do not want to be in the enforcement business," she told me.

That's good to know because a lot of Americans don't want to answer, for example, the race question. Campbell opined, "On the merits of it, I think we should have a colorblind society. I think asking people their race is repulsive."

Then there's the libertarian argument, voiced by Hoover Institution legal solon Richard Epstein: "If you're a minimal-state (government) person, you don't want the government to have money to run a set of programs that it should not run at all."

The Constitution -- Article 1, Sect. 2 -- mandates an every-10-years census, but the language calls for an "enumeration" for drawing congressional districts -- not a Facebook page. Yet even the first census taken in 1790 did not simply count heads; it differentiated between male and female, free and slave.

Some respondents list their race as "American" -- a statement in itself. There's an argument to be made that choosing not to answer keeps you out of the head count. Then you only hurt yourself and undercut your representation in Congress.

Alas, the Census Bureau does not help itself by making the long form so complicated. It's supposed to be a headcount, not a headache.

Debra J. Saunders

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