Oct. 19, 2005 – Citing privacy concerns, over 100 organizations yesterday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanding the immediate cessation of the Pentagonâ€™s student recruiting database. The coalition, which includes a number of civil liberties, religious, anti-war and parent groups, says that the centralized gathering of information on some 30 million young Americans is a direct violation of the 1974 Privacy Act.
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The letter signers expressed concern that the Joint Advertising and Marketing Research Studies (JAMRS) Recruitment Database "goes beyond military recruitment by proposing market research studies such as ad tracking, attitudes of mothers towards military service, and polls of young adults."
Additionally, opponents of the data collection are alarmed that the Pentagon has yet to make opt-out forms available on its website. The Washington Post reported that in an effort to make sure students have the option, the group Leave My Child Alone created its own form and reported that over 34,000 people have downloaded it.
News of the database first surfaced 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, Mullan Advertising, according to the Boston Business Journal.
Opponents of the database are also concerned that using private companies to collect the information will open new avenues for the firms to market other products to youths and their families.
"Government agencies, including the [Department of Defense], have legitimate needs for information about US residents, but they also have a legal obligation to observe laws enacted to protect peopleâ€™s privacy," Bill of Rights defense Committee Director Nancy Talanian said in a statement announcing the letter. "When Congress passed the Privacy Act, its intention was not that the government should turn instead to the private sector for unlimited personal information without prohibitions on how it may be used."
Reportedly, the Pentagon has spent around $206 million on collecting about 12 million names for the database so far. The military has $137 million more it can spend on JAMRS over the next two years, reports Business Journal.
Earlier this year, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy-rights group that signed onto yesterdayâ€™s letter, warned that JAMRS information can be shared with any other government entity.