Thousands respond to Census online

Thousands respond to Census online

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

MARCH 14—Census Bureau officials have not emphasized the availability of online questionnaires for the decennial count, but many people who learn they can respond via the Internet are opting for cyberspace over postal mail.

Americans have begun receiving their 2000 Census forms in the mail. Census officials said five out of six households will receive the short form, the only form that can be filled out online.

Before yesterday, about 1,200 forms—mostly submitted by people in rural areas where questionnaires were hand-delivered last week—had been completed online, said Rick Swartz, acting chief information officer at the Census Bureau. By today, 9,000 people had responded online, Swartz said.

It takes about five minutes to fill out the short form, which can be accessed at, officials said. There also is a link to the form at the bureau's main Web site, at

"There were some security and technology issues with doing the long form online," Swartz said. "The short form also fits on a single Internet HTML page."

Security issues for short-form responses were also considered, Swartz said. But the information respondents provide doesn't stay on a system accessible from outside the bureau for more than 15 minutes, he said.

Users go through one firewall to take part in the national survey, and the information is encrypted for the short time it sits on the original server, he said. The information is automatically removed from that server, he said [see GCN story at vol19_no3/news/1291-1.html].

To fill out the questionnaire, respondents go to the Web site and enter a 22-digit number from the paper form to identify their household. As soon as a respondent enters the site, the form goes into encryption mode, Swartz said. After answering all the questions, respondents are given one chance to verify the information before sending it.

The hardware can handle up to 4 million users per day, Swartz said.

He said he has been surprised at the response to the bureau's tentative foray into electronic data gathering.

"With all the hacking, we didn't want to make it our primary way of collecting data," he said. "This is new technology."

Census officials have said that two reasons they have not promoted the Internet for the decennial count are that their operation is geared mainly toward mail-in responses and that they are trying to increase the response rate among those who in the past have been reluctant to file—including low-income people, many of whom can't afford computers.


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