Census Survey May Move Online

    December 20, 2007

President Bush’s pick to head the Census Bureau said he believes the Internet will be a tool to conduct the decennial survey in the future.

Stephen Murdock, director of the Institute for Demographic Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that Census must move to the Internet eventually while securing citizens personal information.

Steven Murdock"We cannot [move to the Internet] until we can ensure confidentiality," Murdock said. He added there was not enough time to test an Internet based questionnaire system for the 2010 Census, but he wants to create one for future use. The committee recently approved Murdock’s nomination.

The idea to move the Census online was first debated at a July hearing before the same committee, where Census officials and lawmakers argued about the security of sending personal information over the Internet. Deputy Census Director Preston Jay Waite said the agency was not willing to take unnecessary risks. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the bureau leaders lack vision.

The bureau tested Internet surveys in 2001, 2003 and 2005 and found that the increased response rate and cost savings did not outweigh privacy risks.

Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) said people currently use the Internet to file tax returns safely with the Internal Revenue Service.