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Census Workers Sworn to Confidentiality--for Life

New America Media, News Report, Erik Fowle Posted: Sep 05, 2009

As thousands of trained Census Bureau workers gear up to begin the 2010 census of the United States population, one thing makes their service unlike any other job. All census takers must take an oath that they will never reveal the information they collect as they knock on doors in neighborhoods around the country.

And it is an oath that lasts for the rest of their lives. Not even the president of the United States swears a life-time oath. The only thing that comes close are the wedding vows a couple takes to be faithful till death do us part.

The contract Census Bureau workers sign for their employment shows the seriousness of the job and the agency's commitment to preserving privacy and confidentiality. It includes a sworn affidavit of full nondisclosure for life.

The oath itself, issued and repeated with a raised right hand, reads: I will not disclose any information contained in the schedules, lists, or statements obtained for or prepared by the Census Bureau to any person or persons either during or after employment.

Violation of this oath can result in a maximum penalty of up to $250,000 or five years imprisonment, or both.

While the contract that census workers sign isnt exactly nuptial, it does enforce a marriage to confidentiality. And, unlike actual marriages, a census workers agreement is guaranteed for life.

Kat Smith, a specialist at the Dallas regional census office, says that because of the penalties associated with divulging information, census workers do not take their jobs lightly.

The oath of confidentiality is important to the job, she says, because people have their various fears of the government, including fears with being here illegally. But because the privacy of residents is of utmost concern among the Census Bureaus employees.

Not even the president can get details about the information taken from census questionnaires, said Smith.

The message the bureau intends to send is that your information is safe.

Census workers are also forbidden to share your information with other government agencies, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

While the census form asks residents to give what some consider sensitive information to census workers, it is not as sensitive as some may think.

You give more information to Blockbuster or the grocery store than you do the Census Bureau, said Sonny Le, a San Francisco Bay Area Census representative.

In fact, census workers will only ask about the age, ethnicity, address of residence and the relationships of those living in a household.

Thats a far cry from the multiple kinds of identification such as phone numbers, email addresses or Social Security numbers that other businesses or organizations would ask customers or members.

The information census workers will be gathering has direct payoffs for everyone counted. That is why getting the most accurate population count by neighborhoods and state is so critical. Census information is used to allocate $300 billion in federal funds each year. The funds are spent on public health, education and transportation systems, among other projects.

Because the census work is important, Le says, even after a census workers employment is terminated, the oath stays with you.

If its a job that is important, you do sign the agreement," Le said. "Its a serious job.

Related Articles:

Cooperate With the Census, But Be Careful

Ten FAQs of Census 2010

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