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Freedom of Information Documents on the Census

Department of Homeland Security Obtained Data on Arab Americans From Census Bureau

On July 23, 2004, EPIC obtained documents revealing that the Census Bureau provided the Department of Homeland Security statistical data on people who identified themselves on the 2000 census as being of Arab ancestry. The special tabulations were prepared specifically for the law enforcement agency. There is no indication that the Department of Homeland Security requested similar information about any other ethnic groups. The tabulations apparently include information about United States citizens, as well as individuals of Arab descent whose families have lived in the United States for generations.

One tabulation (pdf) shows cities with populations of 10,000 or more and with 1,000 or more people who indicated they are of Arab ancestry. For each city, the tabulation provides total population, population of Arab ancestry, and percent of the total population which is of Arab ancestry.

A second tabulation (zip), more than a thousand pages long, shows the number of census responses indicating Arab ancestry in certain zip codes throughout the country. The responses indicating Arab ancestry are subdivided into Egyptian, Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, Moroccan, Palestinian, Syrian, Arab/Arabic, and Other Arab.

The heavily redacted documents show that in April 2004, a Census Bureau analyst e-mailed a Department of Homeland Security official and said, "You got a file of Arab ancestry information by ZIP Code Tabulation Area from me last December (2003). My superiors are now asking questions about the usage of that data, given the sensitivity of different data requests we have received about the Arab population."

The same day, a Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection official e-mailed (pdf) the analyst to explain, "At U.S. International airports, U.S. Customs posts signage informing various nationalities of the U.S. Customs regulations to report currency brought into the US upon entry . . . . My reason for asking for U.S. demographic data is to aid the Outbound Passenger Program Officer in identifying which language of signage, based on U.S. ethnic nationality population, would be best to post at the major International airports."

During World War II, the Census Bureau provided statistical information to help the War Department round up more than 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans and confine them to internment camps.

The tabulations were produced using data from the 2000 census long-form questionnaire, which goes to only a sample of the population. The tabulation figures, therefore, do not provide an entirely accurate representation of the Arab American population.

As a result of the revelation, EPIC joined a coalition of more than 20 civil liberties groups to call upon the Department of Homeland Security to better explain its acquisition and use of the census data.

In addition, the Census Bureau revised its policy on sharing statistical information about "sensitive populations" with law enforcement or intelligence agencies. Customs and Border Protection also changed (pdf) its policy on requesting "information of a sensitive nature from the Census Bureau."

EPIC has filed additional FOIA requests with the Census Bureau, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to learn more about law enforcement and intelligence use of census information.

FOIA Documents

Related EPIC Policy Pages