Stop me if you've heard this one, before.
Ok, you can't stop me. But please read the whole post. I'm still pissed.
So, about six weeks ago, I get this 679,812 page survey, innocuously called the "American Community Survey," from the US Census Bureau. I opened it up and started looking at it, and I could not believe the invasiveness of this thing. Not only do they want to know how many people live here, they want to know their ages, races, marital status, physical problems (like the ability to walk or climb stairs and leave the house alone) and all kinds of other probing, personal data that I don't think the government needs or has a right to know. My privacy is important to me.
To make matters even more insulting, this stern warning is included:
YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW
And the FAQ that came with it threatens a fine if I don't comply.
No way am I divulging this kind of information to the government, and if they want to fine me, they're gonna have to come and get me, something I don't think is very likely from the Census Bureau. I shred the thing and then throw it in the recycling bag (along with all the other junk mail).
A week or so after this attempted invasion of my privacy, I start getting calls from the Census Bureau, which I generously allow to go straight into voicemail. These calls become more frequent, and they start coming at all times of the day, from 8:00 am to 8:30 pm and all points in between. It's obvious that they're going to be persistent and bug the living hell out of me.
Finally, in a gallant attempt to stop this government harrassment, I answer one of the calls and the following parphrased conversation takes place:
ACORN Worker: "Is this [my name] who lives at [my address] in Mobile, Alabama?"
Resolute GulfCoastTider: "Yes, it is."
AW: "You were recently mailed the American Community Survey and we have not received your responses yet."
GCT: "I've decided not to participate."
AW: "YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW under Section blah-blah-blah of Title whatever of the US Code."
GCT: "I'm sorry, but I don't have time to fill that out, and the questions are an invasion of my privacy. So I've decided not to participate."
AW: "Are you aware that there are penalties and fines associated with your refusal to provide your answers?"
GCT: "Fine me."
AW: "What did you say?"
GCT: "I said, 'fine me.' I'm not participating in this and I've already thrown it in the garbage."
AW: "Thank you for your time sir." click.
I'm thinking "problem solved." But not so fast, my friend. The very next day, I get a call from a 205 area code number [that's Birmingham, for those of you not blessed enough to live in Alabama], but with "no name" in the Caller ID. I answer and the following paraphrased conversation takes place:
Surly ACORN Supervisor: "Mr. GCT?"
SAS: "Yesterday, you told a member of my staff that you were refusing to participate in the American Community Survey. This call is to remind you that YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW under Section blah-blah-blah of Title whatever of the US Code and you will be subject to a fine if you don't participate."
I distinctly hear giggling in the background, as if someone is standing in SAS' cubicle and listening to SAS give that uppity citizen the what-for.
GCT: "I'm not paying any fines, and I shredded the form and threw it in the trash. If you send another one, I'm having it returned to sender."
SAS: "Mr. GCT, you need to stop being uncooperative and provide your answers, for your own good."
GCT: [clenches teeth like Clint Eastwood] "Now, you listen here. You will get the answers to your little survey when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers. I am not participating and I am not paying you one red cent."
I know that's an adaptation of a Heston quote in a speech before an NRA convention, but Eastwood's clenched teeth growl sounds more convincing. It works, too. After a moment of stunned silence, there's a mumbling voice in the background and then SAS goes Aunt Esther on me, raising her voice:
SAS: "Mr. GCT, you are going to violate federal law!!! If you do not comply then I will have no choice but to send someone to your home to collect this survey!!!" There's a "BAM" noise in the background, like a desk-slap.
She goes on for a few more seconds about Section blah-blah-blah of Title whatever of the US Code before I interrupt.
GCT: [still Eastwood clenching] "If I get one more call from you or anyone else from the Census Bureau, I am reporting you for harrassing communications under Section blah-blah-blah of Title whatever of the US Code. And if anyone shows up at my house, I am having them arrested for trespassing and harassment. You will leave me alone, and you will leave my family alone. Have a nice day."
A few days later, there's a knock at my door. You guessed it--a Census rep. This was a largish, middle-aged nice looking lady, who I politely informed that I was not participating and that I had better not see or hear from the Census Bureau, ever again, or I was filing charges of harassment. I didn't have the heart to call the law on this nice lady--she looked surprised and more than a little embarrassed, as if no one had told her about my resolve.
The next guy that showed up, though--he got it. He showed up at nearly 8:00 pm, on a Saturday night, with an official looking ID badge and a very stern look on his face. He started to introduce himself and as he spoke, I pulled out my cell and dialed 911.
911 Operator: "911, what is your emergency?"
GCT: I want to report trespassing and harassment, and the perpetrator is on site now.
911 Operator: What is your address?"
[I give my address]
Stern Male ACORN Dude: "What are you doing, sir?"
GCT: Reporting you for trespassing and harassing communications. You stay right where you are, the police are on their way.
Mr. Stern Male ACORN Dude turns around and quickly walks down to his car. He gets in, closes the door, starts the engine, puts the car in gear and pulls forward, just in time for Johnny Law to round the corner and put his lights on.
To make a really long post a little shorter, Mr. Stern Male ACORN Dude did not get himself formally detained that night. But he did get to spend a few minutes in the backseat of a police cruiser. As he was being released, the officer told him that he'd better not see him bothering "these nice people any more, or you're going to my jail."
I haven't seen hide nor hair of ACORN since, but something tells me that the story is not over, yet.
For the record, I dutifully completed the regular survey form that only asks for names, ages and ethnic origins and sent it back on April 1, 2010. I have no problem with the government asking questions on a voluntary survey. However, as a private citizen, it is my right to refuse to divulge information I consider private. It is your right as well. The American Community Survey is an obnoxious invasion of privacy. It was designed to replaced the Census Bureau's Long Form, which asks questions in more detail but goes nowhere near the invasiveness of this thing.