Bill Would Criminalize Census Disinformation


Violators could be fined tens of thousands of dollars if passed.

Spreading disinformation regarding the federal government’s once-a-decade decennial population count could land you in jail or fined thousands of dollars under new legislation introduced in the House and Senate this week.

The Honest Census Communications Act, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and in the House by Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., outlaws written, digital or telephonic communications about the Census that “has the intent to impede or prevent another person from participating in any census.”

The bill, introduced once before by Democrats in 2020, follows heightened disinformation efforts that forced the Census Bureau to actively engage the public and address rumors and disinformation during the 2020 Census. The decennial census is the constitutionally-mandated means through which the federal government determines how political representation and federal tax dollars are distributed.

“America’s founders included the decennial Census in the Constitution because a representative democracy depends on an accurate count of its people. The Honest Census Communications Act ensures that any attempt to intentionally spread lies about the once-in-a-decade count is met with severe consequences befitting this crime,” Eshoo said in a statement.

If passed, violators could be imprisoned for up to five years or fined up to $11,181 per communication under the False Claims Act. The legislation applies to decennial counts as well as other federal censuses, including the U.S. Economic Census that will next take place in 2022.

“In 2020, we saw disinformation about the census everywhere. It ranged from who can participate to how the information would be used, and all of it was meant to stop people from being counted. Our bill will help stop false information from spreading and protect the constitutionally mandated census from any attempts to disrupt it,” Schatz said.