US sniffs out recruits
- Privacy row as US sniffs out recruits
By Damien Cave
June 25, 2005
Confronted with a fall in recruiting, the US military
has created a database of 30 million Americans as
young as 16, full of personal data such as school
grades and social security numbers.
Enlisting the help of a marketing firm, the Pentagon
began building the database three years ago, but
military officials filed a notice announcing plans for
it only last month. That is apparently a violation of
the federal Privacy Act, which requires that
government agencies accept public comment before new
records systems are created.
A coalition of eight privacy groups has filed a brief
opposing the database's creation.
David Chu, the undersecretary of defence for personnel
and readiness, acknowledged on Thursday that the
database had been in the works since 2002. It was just
a tool to send general material from the Pentagon to
those most likely to enlist, he said.
"If we don't want conscription, you have to give the
Department of Defence, the military services, an
avenue to contact young people to tell them what is
being offered. It would be naive to believe that in
any enterprise, that you are going to do well just by
waiting for people to call you."
The issue of the database has emerged as the army and,
to a lesser extent, the marines, struggle to meet
recruitment goals to replenish the ranks of the
Pentagon officials are increasingly worried that the
national recruiting downturn is not a short-term slump
but a long-term crisis threatening the viability of
The website for the Pentagon's Joint Advertising
Market Research Studies division, which manages
recruiting research and marketing for all four
branches of the military, describes the database as
"arguably the largest repository of 16-to-25-year-old
youth data in the country". It is managed by a private
marketing company that uses personal data to target
The database includes names of more than 3.1 million
high school graduates, a list bought by the Pentagon,
as well as names of 4.7 million college students,
Pentagon records show.
Recruiters have compiled and used similar data for
decades, former military officials say. But this
database is the most extensive centralised collection
of such records. And information is continually being
merged for targeted marketing.
"Halfway through 2004," says a briefing on the program
in February that appears on a Pentagon website, "we
started overlaying ethnicity codes and telephone
Mr Chu said the data, particularly social security
numbers, was closely guarded and had not been shared
with other government agencies.
As enlistment has dwindled in several services, many
parents say military recruiters have become more
aggressive, often calling their homes repeatedly.
Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, public high
school districts are obliged to provide student
contact information to military recruiters or risk
losing federal funds.
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times
THEY'RE ON THE LIST
- The Pentagon's database compiles detailed
information about high school students aged 16 to 18,
all college students, and individuals registered with
the Selective Service System.
- At any one time there are about 12 million names on
- Information contained could include social security
numbers, average marks, ethnicity, email addresses and
subjects students are studying.
- The Pentagon says it is used chiefly for direct-mail
campaigns and to help the military weed out people who
would not be eligible.
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