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 | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 29, 2005

Rumsfeld Urged To Start 'Do Not Call' List for Military Recruiting

The Leave My Child Alone coalition called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today to establish a National Do Not Call List to safeguard family privacy from unwanted military recruitment. The call comes a week after it was disclosed that the Pentagon has teamed with the private firm BeNOW to form a massive database of high school and college students to target for recruitment purposes.

"Millions applauded when the FCC formed a Do Not Call List for consumers. Now we need the armed forces to create one to protect our children's privacy," says Megan Matson of the Leave My Child Alone coalition. "The Pentagon has no right to pressure our kids to enlist -- that should be a private, family decision."

Posted by MikeBurke on June 29, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

June 24, 2005

Pentagon: 12 Million Names Already In Recruiting Database

The Washington Post is reporting today that the Pentagon's new student database already includes 12 million names. The Pentagon has also begun to defend the controversial program:

    David S. C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said the Pentagon's contract with a private marketing firm was simply an attempt to obtain the most accurate list possible of contact information for high school students ages 16 to 18 as well as all college students... "This is not targeting" by using personal profiles, Chu said, adding that the military has purchased data from commercial data vendors for some time. Chu said he did not know why a firm that specializes in targeted marketing was hired for the task. He said that decision was made by another Pentagon contractor, Mullen Advertising Inc., which works on military ad campaigns.
While Chu is claiming the database will not be used for "targeting" potential recruits, others in the Pentagon have explicitly said it would do just that. Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke told the Associated Press, "The program is very important because it helps the recruiters be more effective to target qualified candidates for specific missions."

Posted by MikeBurke on June 24, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 23, 2005

Will Military Recruiters Begin Tracking Your CD & DVD Purchases?

The Pentagon has teamed up with a little-known marketing firm named BeNOW to create a massive new database to help military recruiters target potential recruits.

According to government records the database covers all high school students 16 years or older; current college students; anyone who has responded to recruiting ads since 1992; current military personnel and anyone in the process of enlisting.

The database includes an array of personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties have both slammed the proposal as a violation of the Privacy Act. (The ACLU described the database as "another example of the government's rampant and unregulated collection and use of our personal information.")

But little has been written about the private firm BeNOW that will be overseeing this massive database containing personal information about tens of millions of young people.

According to the BeNOW website, the Wakefield, Massachusetts-based company works on database marketing plans with Tower Records, Saab and MetLife. A look at the company's work with Tower Records may provide a clearer idea of how the Pentagon will use this new database to help market the military to young people.

Earlier this year Tower issued a press release touting its new relationship with BeNOW titled "Tower Records Tunes Into Customers With BeNOW":

    Working with BeNOW, Tower Records will gather and consolidate customer information into a multi-channel marketing database that will allow more targeted communications and build customer relationships as part of its commitment to strengthening its image as a customer-centric company.

    BeNOW`s MVP technology solution will deliver a single customer view using Tower stores and online data sources, increasing customer value while enlarging the company`s customer database.

    Tower Records can then more easily tailor its direct marketing efforts, supported by advanced reporting, analytics and execution applications, and based on refined customer profiles as determined through BeNOW`s technology.

The BeNOW's ties to Tower Records also raises questions over whether the Pentagon would tap into these "customer profiles" created by BeNOW for Tower to get a better picture of potential recruits.

Will the database include info on your recent CD and DVD purchases?

And what other commercial databases will be used? (The Washington Post reported this morning "Under the new system, additional data will be collected from commercial data brokers, state drivers' license records and other sources, including information already held by the military.")

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has criticized the Pentagon for its planned use of commercial vendors for data on potential recruits.

"The DOD should not obtain personal information from commercial vendors when the same data can be obtained from data subjects through surveys or interactions with recruiter," the group warns. "Commercial sellers of personal information are major threats to personal privacy, they maintain inaccurate databases, and as recent events make clear, they sometimes sell personal information to criminals.  The DOD should not be in the business of enriching these companies while significant attention is being focused on them by state attorneys general, the Federal Trade Commission, and the media."

Posted by MikeBurke on June 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Privacy Watchdogs Calls on Pentagon To Scrap New Recruiting Database

A coalition of privacy advocacy groups have called for the Pentagon to scrap its new database to track potential recruits as young as 16. The database is being run by the Pentagon's Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies and the Massachusetts-based marketing firm BeNow and will include an array of personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.

Groups opposing the database include the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Consumer Action, Privacy Activism, Commercial Alert, Privacy Journal, World Privacy Forum, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Junkbusters.

In a joint statement the groups write:

    We support the U.S. Armed Forces, and understand that DOD faces serious challenges in recruiting for the military.  But we strongly object to the creation of this Joint Advertising database.  The collection of this information is not consistent with the Privacy Act, which was passed by Congress to reduce the government's collection of personal information on Americans.  The collection of individuals' Social Security Numbers presents risks to privacy, and is unnecessary for operation of the database. The "routine uses" for disclosure of information in the database is unjustified.  The DOD 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.

    This database represents an unprecedented foray of the government into direct marketing techniques previously only performed by the private sector.  These techniques simply are not compatible with the Privacy Act, as direct marketing tactics increasingly call for massive amounts of personal information.  And while numerous laws protect individuals from commercial direct marketing techniques, these protections only apply in commercial transactions, leaving individuals with little recourse against harassing or unwanted junk mail, telemarketing, and spam from the government.

    This database is a bad idea.  The DOD should scrap its proposal to create this mega database of young Americans and rely upon traditional mass-media advertising to reach potential recruits.

Posted by MikeBurke on June 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pentagon Hires Marketing Company To Create Massive Student Database to Target Potential Recruits

From The Washington Post:

    The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of all U.S. college students and high school students between 16 and 18 years old to help the military identify potential recruits in a time of dwindling enlistment in some branches. The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include an array of personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying. The data will be managed by BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., one of many marketing firms that use computers to analyze large amounts of data to target potential customers based on their personal profiles and habits...

    Privacy advocates said the plan appeared to be an effort to circumvent laws that restrict the government's right to collect or hold citizen information by turning to private firms to do the work. Some data on high school students already is given to military recruiters in a separate program under provisions of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Recruiters have been using the information to contact students at home, angering some parents and school districts around the country... Under the new system, additional data will be collected from commercial data brokers, state drivers' license records and other sources, including information already held by the military.

    "Using multiple sources allows the compilation of a more complete list of eligible candidates to join the military," according to written statements provided by Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke in response to questions. "This program is important because it helps bolster the effectiveness of all the services' recruiting and retention efforts."

    The Pentagon's statements added that anyone can "opt out" of the system by providing detailed personal information that will be kept in a separate "suppression file." That file will be matched with the full database regularly to ensure that those who do not wish to be contacted are not, according to the Pentagon...

    Chris Jay Hoofnagle, West Coast director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the system "an audacious plan to target-market kids, as young as 16, for military solicitation."

    The system also gives the Pentagon the right, without notifying citizens, to share the data for numerous uses outside the military, including with law enforcement, state tax authorities and Congress.

Posted by MikeBurke on June 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack