[TIMELINE] 1943: Census Released Japanese Americans' Data
- In 1943, Census released Japanese Americans' data
By Teresa Watanabe, Times Staff Writer
The Census Bureau turned over confidential information, including
names and addresses, to help the U.S. government identify individual
Japanese Americans during World War II, according to government
documents released by two scholars Friday.
The documents validate long-held suspicions among Japanese Americans
that information about them collected under confidentiality pledges
was released to the government.
In 2000, the Census Bureau acknowledged and apologized for its role
in sharing aggregate data with the U.S. military to help relocate
Japanese Americans from the West Coast to inland camps after Japan's
1941 Pearl Harbor attack.
But Friday's disclosure represented the first confirmation that the
bureau also shared information about individuals in this case, the
names and addresses of Japanese Americans in the Washington, D.C.,
area. A list of 79 names was handed over to aid a Secret Service
investigation into possible threats to the president.
The disclosures were legal under wartime legislation. But they were
arguably unethical and could affect public trust in the bureau's
confidentiality pledges as it prepares to launch its 2010 census,
according to the scholars, William Seltzer of Fordham University and
Margo Anderson of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The pair
presented their findings at a New York population conference.
"It's very hard to do a census if people mistrust the census takers,"
Census Bureau spokeswoman Christa Jones stressed that the wartime
actions were legal and that privacy protections are far stronger
today. "It's our commitment to protect the confidentiality in
everything we do," she said.
However, Seltzer and Anderson said questions continued to plague the
bureau. In 2004, census officials came under fire after disclosures
that they provided specially tabulated population statistics on Arab
Americans to the Department of Homeland Security. The disclosures
were legal and involved publicly available data, but they caused an
Community advocates said the new disclosures would increase
suspicions about information gathering. "People of color have always
been suspicious of federal agencies that collect information," said
Lane Hirabayashi, a UCLA Asian American studies professor. "The
historical pattern is that the data is used to the disadvantage of
people of color without the money and legal resources to defend
Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in
Anaheim said many Muslim and Arab Americans suspected their privacy
rights had been violated by federal officials. "It's open season on
all privacy rights under the pretext of national security," he said.
According to Seltzer and Anderson, the Census Bureau helped lobby
Congress to pass the Second War Powers Act in March 1942, authorizing
census data to be shared with other government agencies "for use in
connection with the conduct of war." The provision expired in 1947.
In August 1943, the Secret Service requested a list of all Japanese
Americans in Washington to aid an investigation into reported threats
to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The investigation followed
congressional hearings into alleged anti-American activities by
Japanese Americans, including a report that one man had said "we
ought to have enough guts to kill Roosevelt."
The man, Juichi Uyemoto, had already been committed to a mental
hospital for schizophrenia. But Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau
Jr. requested the list of names.
Community advocates called for new assurances that privacy
protections would be strengthened. "It's a dangerous thing when
citizens no longer trust their government," Ayloush said.