The US census is in the process of conducting its regular American Community Survey, which has received some notoriety due to some of its invasive questions, to the point where people think it's a phishing scam. Answering the survey is apparently required by federal law under U.S. Code: Title 13. In particular, you can be fined $100 if you refuse to answer any of the questions.

In practice, it appears that this fine is not regularly enforced, but suppose that someone objects sufficiently to the questions that they would rather pay the fine than answer. However, my understanding is that, in such a case, the census bureau has been known to pursue non-respondents quite aggressively, including frequent phone calls and visits to the home.

In this kind of situation, where the action is illegal (and there is a legally-authorized fine), what are a non-respondents' options in dealing with harassment by census bureau employees. E.g., are census workers allowed to enter a home without permission? Are they required to leave if asked?


Nobody can enter your home without permission, nor can they stay on your property after you ask them to leave, unless they have a warrant, or unless there exists some "exigent circumstance" (e.g., "hot pursuit" by police, or evidence of something like a fire or medical emergency). Obviously neither of these exceptions applies to a census worker.

Someone (including a census worker) who enters your home without permission could be charged with various crimes (e.g., Breaking or Entering). Likewise, someone who stays on your property after you ask them to leave could be charged with lesser crimes like "Trespass." In any case, only the law enforcement system can prosecute crimes, so someone faced with such a situation should call the police and/or file a criminal complaint.

  • So if a census worker says "you are obligated to speak with me under federal law" and you ask them to leave anyway, there is no additional crime being committed by asking them to leave beyond what's already covered under Title 13 with its fine for non-compliance? – Dan Bryant Nov 5 '15 at 18:43
  • @DanBryant Unless the law obligates you to speak with them on your property (which I can't see that it does) then you are correct. Furthermore, you could avoid breaking the law by providing them some other means of "speaking" with you -- a telephone number, an Email address, a public place and time of your choosing. E.g., "Sure, I'll speak to you. Get off my property. Come back to my curb tomorrow at 8AM. I'll be sitting in my patio chair just out of the right-of-way, and you can stand in the right-of-way and speak for as long as the law requires me to be there." – feetwet Nov 5 '15 at 19:44
  • @feetwet suppose someone wishes to pay the $100 fine in exchange for not having to speak with the census worker, or as an act of civil disobedience. What could the census worker do to try to change the person's mind, and what could the person do to try to get the census worker to accept his or her decision with minimum fuss? – phoog Nov 5 '15 at 22:48
  • @phoog - Government worker and minimum fuss aren't phrases I find easy to associate ;) In the ideal world it would be, "I decline; here's my fine." I have no idea whether the Census Bureau or its employees have the ability or inclination to behave that competently. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that somewhere is a citizen who responded but has not only been erroneously fined but also called every business day since then by agents re-soliciting their response to the survey.... So there's my dose of cynicism for the day! – feetwet Nov 5 '15 at 22:58

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