Civil Rights Watchdogs Pledge to Ensure Census Data is Protected

Apr 5, 2020 | Community News

S. E. Williams | Contributor

The 2020 Census officially kicked-off on Wednesday, April 1, 2020.

In advance of its official launch, more than 275 civic leaders, non-profit organizations, elected officials, state and local groups announced the formation of a watchdog coalition dedicated to monitoring and protecting the confidentiality of 2020 Census data.

The coalition is being led by The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC).



Members have pledged to use their collective expertise, power, and influence to safeguard the strict census data confidentiality requirements, while they work to assure people that they should participate in the Census as a way to secure resources important for their family and community without worry.

MALDEF and general counsel Thomas A. Saenz stated, “Heightened distrust in elements of the federal government is a threat to our nation’s ability to secure an accurate Census, which is so critical to our democracy’s next decade.”

According to Saenz, the coalition’s data confidentiality protection pledge is intended to provide  reassurance to all—including hardworking Census Bureau staff themselves, “[T]hat powerful forces outside of government are working together to protect data confidentiality and the integrity of Census 2020.”

Under federal law, the Census Bureau is mandated to protect any personal and household information it collects. The Bureau is also barred from sharing an individual’s personal census information with any other government agencies. This includes the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement, housing authorities, public benefit administrators, or other agencies for a period of no less than 72 years.

“Individual census responses are protected by some of the strictest confidentiality protections in federal law and, as advocates, we know how to help enforce them,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

This effort will hopefully reassure members of several minority communities who fear the federal government might use census information against them whether in relation to issues associated with criminal justice, immigration, etc.

“This coalition of census watchdogs is using the best tools in our collective arsenal—our political influence, our legal expertise, and our dedication to vulnerable communities—to ensure people feel comfortable participating in the 2020 Census,” Gupta confirmed. “We’ve done it before when we prevented the citizenship question from being added to the 2020 Census.”

By law and individual’s information cannot be used against them by ICE, law enforcement, landlords, or public benefits providers. “We are on watch to help ensure no one interferes with that obligation,” Gupta declared.

Because census data are so crucial to the equitable allocation of Congressional seats, determining election districts and ensuring the equitable distribution of federal funds for a wide range of vital programs including schools, hospitals, and other social services, the coalition is committed to increasing census responses among communities of color that have been historically undercounted.

The coalition’s plan includes working with groups currently operating hotlines to answer any questions about the Census and reporting any issues related to census operations or potential breaches.

Commenting about the census actor and activist, George Takei whose family was interned during WWII shared, “During WWII, the U.S. government used Census data to incarcerate 120,000 Japanese Americans. This was a shocking betrayal of the bureau’s pledge of confidentiality of Census data.”

He continued, “This historic violation galvanized citizens who cherish justice and the integrity of the Census, resulting in the strongest, most robust confidentiality laws on our books. I am confident that this breakdown would never happen again.”

Takei went on to express his support of this effort by civil rights groups to monitor and protect private data and confidentiality in the 2020 Census.

“I have faith in this effort,” he reassured. “I understand its importance to me, our community and to the vitality of our diverse nation. I encourage you to fill out the 2020 Census.”


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