Miller Says Patriot Act Does Not Trump Census Confidentiality Laws

Friday, March 5, 2010
Pictured left to right are Dr. Robert Groves, census director, Dr. Bernie Miller, African American Census advisory chairman, and Attorney Cameron F. Kerry, General Counsel Department of Commerce.
Pictured left to right are Dr. Robert Groves, census director, Dr. Bernie Miller, African American Census advisory chairman, and Attorney Cameron F. Kerry, General Counsel Department of Commerce.

Dr. Bernie Miller, pastor of New Covenant Fellowship Church and chairman of the U.S. Census Bureau’s African American Advisory committee, was one of a handful of selected leaders invited to a special meeting at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.

“We were told, emphatically, that stated provisions of the Patriot Act pertaining to information-gathering and sharing do not override federal confidentiality laws when it comes to the U.S. Census questionnaire. Some people question folks with a clipboard and a badge. This strong statement released to us today will, hopefully, convince the minority communities that the information given on the questionnaires are safe and secure,” Dr. Miller said.

Assistant Attorney General Ronald H. Weich said, "The long history of congressional enactments protecting [Census] information from such disclosure, as well as the established precedents of the courts and this department, supports the view that if Congress intended to override these protections, it would say so clearly and explicitly."

In this case, federal Census laws trump the Patriot Act, and the agency will keep information obtained during the headcount confidential and away from other departments, Mr. Weich said.

Dr. Miller said, “The Race and Ethnic Advisory committees have been raising the issue of confidentiality concerns for a long time.”

Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, who also attended the meeting, said, “As we have been going around doing our outreach to local community leaders -- whether religious leaders or community activists -- many people have been asking whether the Census is confidential. The Patriot Act has been passed since the last Census, so what we wanted to do was eliminate any doubt that the Patriot Act has an impact, and it does not.”

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