ACLU, JACL and ADC Alarmed that Census Violated Privacy in World War II, Urges Congress to Ensure Similar Actions Are Not Happening Now

March 30, 2007 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Following reports in USA Today that the Census Bureau gave American surveillance agencies information on persons of Japanese Ancestry during World War II, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) urged Congress to investigate and ensure that such practices do not occur today.

“Wartime hysteria led our government to violate the privacy and trust of Americans,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The census is a vital tool, but such sensitive information must be protected. If Americans fear that their answers to the census will be shared, it will dampen the ability of our government to provide effective government services. Congress must investigate whether similar groups are facing similar actions today.”

The USA Today article was based on the research of William Seltzer of Fordham University and Dr. Margo Anderson of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Their paper concludes that in 1943 the Census Bureau provided the Treasury Department with a list of all persons of Japanese ancestry in the Washington DC area. That information, gathered under a promise of confidentiality, was also shared with the FBI and other government agencies. The report also concludes that this action was not illegal, as it was authorized under the Second War Powers Act.

“This is another slap in the face to Japanese Americans,” said Floyd Mori, National Director of JACL. “During World War II, 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, the majority of whom were U.S. citizens, were forced into American concentration camps. Many others were immediately plucked from their homes by the FBI and carted off to undisclosed imprisonment facilities. Like this recent revelation that our privacy was also violated, internment was also deemed ‘legal.’ In America, not all ‘legal’ actions are consistent with the values and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution.”

The Census Bureau has previously denied that it had shared information on Japanese Americans during World War II. Similar concerns were raised in 2004 when it was revealed that the Census Bureau had shared with the Department of Homeland Security a limited set of zip code data on Americans of Arab ancestry.

“Congress must take steps to ensure that this violation of Japanese Americans’ privacy is not repeated with Arab Americans, this is vital in light of the targeted-surveillance and enforcement programs we have seen in the past few years,” said Kareem Shora, National Executive Director of the ADC. “This data needs to be collected, and it needs to be protected.”

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