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Privacy Advocates Assail Pentagon Recruit Database
Published on Friday, June 24, 2005 by Reuters
Privacy Advocates Assail Pentagon Recruit Database
by Will Dunham
 

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 this way."

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 Americans.

"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.

RECRUITING WOES

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

© Copyright 2005 Reuters Ltd

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