The Pentagon has created a database
of 12 million Americans as young as age 16, full of personal
data such as grades and Social Security numbers, to help find
potential military recruits, officials said on Thursday, in a
program condemned by privacy advocates.
The database contains information on U.S. high school
students ages 16 to 18, college students, and those who have
registered with the Selective Service System as required by law
in the event a military draft is resumed, the Pentagon said.
The database, created in 2003 but only now being disclosed,
includes names, birth dates, addresses, Social Security
numbers, individuals' e-mail addresses, ethnicity, telephone
numbers, students' grade-point averages, field of academic
study and other data, the Pentagon said.
Jim Harper, a privacy expert with the libertarian Cato
Institute think tank, said, "It's a real privacy concern to
have the youth of America tracked and targeted by the military
Other privacy advocates challenged the database's legality,
saying amassing the information violated the Privacy Act, a law
intended to reduce government collection of personal data on
"The DOD (Department of Defense) proposes to ignore the law
and its own regulations by collecting personal information from
commercial data brokers and state registries rather than
directly from individuals," a statement by a coalition of
privacy groups said.
"This database represents an unprecedented foray of the
government into direct marketing techniques previously only
performed by the private sector," the statement added.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters, "We
always worry about privacy issues."
David Chu, under secretary of defense for personnel and
readiness, said this was not a case of government infringement
on citizens' privacy rights.
"There's nothing sinister," Chu said, arguing the ability
to contact young Americans was critical to the success of the
all-volunteer U.S. military.
Marine Corps Capt. Maurice Brown, who works on the program,
said a total of 30 million people have been in the database
since it was created, and it now lists 12 million people.
BeNOW, a Wakefield, Massachusetts-based marketing company
that sifts through huge volumes of information to identify
potential customers, is assisting with the database, Chu said.
The database was created long before current problems
facing military recruitment, largely because of the Iraq war.
The Army has missed recruiting targets in four straight months
and is in danger of missing its fiscal 2005 recruiting goal.
While the database was created in 2003, the Pentagon made
its first public disclosure of it in a notice under the Privacy
Act published in the May 23 Federal Register.
Chu said the Pentagon did not initially realize such a
notice was required. After realizing in May 2004 it was
required, a lengthy internal review delayed the notice until
last month, official said. This delay appeared to violate the
Privacy Act, critics said.
Chu said language in a 1982 law permitted such a database.
The Federal Register notice said information in the
database could be disclosed to law enforcement agencies,
taxation authorities and others, but officials said no such
outside disclosures had been made.
Harper said it was not surprising the Pentagon was trying
modern marketing methods. "On the other hand, why are we such a
warlike country that we need to have our Defense Department
keeping track of every young American for the ostensible
purpose of bringing them into the military?"Harper asked.
Additional reporting by Charles Aldinger
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