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October 19, 2005

Dump the Recruiting Database, Says National Coalition

Over 100 organizations have sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld calling for the dismantling of a controversial Pentagon database that collects information on high school students. The coalition, a mix of civil liberties, religious, anti-war and parent groups, says that the Joint Advertising and Marketing Research Studies (JAMRS) Recruitment Database is a violation of the 1974 Privacy Act.

The "Dump the Database Coalition," as the groups are known, are also concerned about the broad scope of information collected, the lack of proper notice to the public, and the fact that parties who provided the information are not warned of the military recruiting purpose.

According to a press release from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (a member of the coalition):

The sources of information for the DOD database include the High School Master File and the College Students Files, which are compiled for purposes that are unrelated to an interest in military service or recruitment. The High School Master File is created from information provided by state motor vehicle departments, and the commercial brokers American Student List and Student Marketing Group.

American Student List sells databases of children's names in grades K-12 overlaid with data on sex, age, whether they own a telephone, income, religion, and their race or ethnicity. This information is often obtained from surveys that are administered while children are at school, under the pretense of education-related purposes.

And the New Standard News reports that "opponents of the data collection are alarmed that the Pentagon has yet to make opt-out forms available on its website."  But community groups have stepped into the breach - Leave My Child Alone has created its own opt-out form, and an estimated 34,000 people have downloaded it.

While the Pentagon has been compiling information for the database since 2002, it only came to the public eye in June, after the Pentagon announced it was buying information about high school and college students between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. The information is being compiled by BeNow, Inc, under a $343 million contract with a Massachusetts company, Mullen Advertising, according to the Boston Business Journal.  Since subcontracting with Mullen, BeNow has been acquired by Equifax, one of the "big three" credit reporting agencies that compile a wide range of  personal and financial data.

There appears to be some slush in the $343 million JAMRS budget; the Washington Post reports that Mullen spent $443,000 for student data from American Student List LLC, and that other costs "include five employees to purchase and manage the data and provide reports and recruiting leads to the services, at a cost to the Pentagon of roughly $194,000 per employee, and $16,500 for "toll-free" calls."

Posted by Kat Aaron on October 19, 2005 | Permalink

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