Questions in census survey concern many

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

HOUSTON - Most of people know better than to give out personal information to a stranger, but a survey some of people received by mail is raising a red flag.

The questionnaire is from the Census Bureau. Consumer expert Amy Davis is getting new details on exactly what the federal government is doing with all the data it collects.

The American Community Survey goes out to about 3.5 million people every year. When Houstonian Kristina Sullivan got hers, she emailed Davis with her concerns.

"They're asking about financial things," Sullivan explained. "And that is a red flag."

There are dozens of questions about the type of vehicles members of a household drive and how much people spend on electricity each year.

"I've done the census before and these weren't questions that I recall ever having to answer on the census," said Sullivan.

KPRC Local 2 discovered a lot of people are concerned about the nature of the questions. Earlier this year, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans' homes.

The Census Bureau said it is information states and counties use to fund programs, schools and roads. A letter that comes with the survey explains "You are required by US law to respond to this survey" and "The Census Bureau is required by law to keep your answers confidential."

Online, KPRC Local 2 found a video made by the Census Bureau that features Target executives explaining how the questions help the retailer stock its stores across the country. In the comments under the YouTube video, one man wrote "I can see where our Founding Fathers implemented the census to help Target with their demographics."

A Census representative said all individual answers are absolutely confidential, but the answers are pooled and made public online. Target, just like any business or person has access to the statistical information about communities across the country.

People are required by law to fill out the survey if they receive one. A person can be fined up to $5,000 for not participating, but the Census Bureau said no one has been fined in recent history. They try instead to encourage citizens to provide the information.

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