Parents groups, privacy advocates claim Pentagon list violates federal law
By JONATHAN KRIM
WASHINGTON - A national coalition of parents groups, privacy advocates and community organizations launched a campaign last week to quash a database of high school and college students built by the Pentagon to help target potential military recruits.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, more than 100 groups charge that the database violates federal privacy laws and is collecting demographic and other personal information on young Americans that could be misused by the government and the marketing firms handling the program.
"We are not in opposition to those who choose to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces," said a draft of the letter asking that the program be shut down. But "the creation of the ... database is in conflict with the Privacy Act, which was passed by Congress to reduce the government's collection of personal information on Americans."
The military, which is struggling to meet recruiting goals, argues that the effort is grounded in law and is essential to maintaining strong, all-volunteer armed forces.
The Pentagon is on track to spend $342.9 million on the controversial Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies program.
The effort seeks to help recruiters discover and reach more potential enlistees and to develop advertising aimed at those who typically influence young people, including parents, coaches and teachers.
The Pentagon program was little known until June, when the military issued a privacy notice that it was buying lists of all high school and college students to create a database that included birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.
David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said at the time that the privacy notice should have been issued sooner and that parents could request that their children not be solicited by recruiters.
The Pentagon has not yet made opt-out forms available on its Web sites, though it promises to do so by early next year.
A member of one group opposed to the database, Leave My Child Alone, created its own opt-out letter and said 34,000 copies of it have been downloaded from its Web site.
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