The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Pentagon ‘Freedom Walkâ€TM Registration Policy Raises Concerns

by Erin Cassin

To the chagrin of privacy advocates, the Pentagon has been requiring people who want to participate in a September 11 commemoration event to provide personal information.

Aug. 19, 2005 – The current registration policy in place for an upcoming September 11 commemorative walk organized by the Pentagon has some privacy rights advocates questioning its consistency with the stated theme of celebrating "freedom." By way of an online form, registrants must submit personal information such as name, general age, mailing address, phone number and email address in order to participate in the controversial event, known as the America Supports You Freedom Walk.

The Walk is billed as a march to "remember the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, to honor U.S. troops and veterans, and to highlight the value of freedom." The event will start at the Pentagon and end at the National Mall in Washington, DC.

"I think it is an abomination that a federal government agency would require registration for a public gathering," said Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a California-based organization that advocates on behalf of consumers. "In my mind, this impinges on the First Amendment right of free assembly."

According to Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Greg Hicks, the Freedom Walk registration form was originally designed with the intention of charging participants a fee to defray event costs. The Department of Defense, which has an annual budget well in excess of $400 billion, has since decided to make Freedom Walk a free event.

After repeated inquiries from The NewStandard about the purpose of collecting personal details, Hicks said DoD "will be removing the boxes [on the form] that ask for personal data."

After repeated inquiries from The NewStandard about the purpose of collecting personal details, Hicks said DoD “will be removing the boxes [on the form] that ask for personal data.”

As of press time, the registration website is still requiring participants to enter all information required by the original form. Hicks said he is not sure how many people have already signed up using the online form.

It is also not clear precisely which personal data will no longer be required by registrants once site changes are made, but it does seem that name and age will still be mandatory information, since people under the age of 18 are not allowed to sign up unless an adult is registering with them. "Not allowing minors to register directly without parental consent protects us from liability issues," Hicks said.

Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center stated her concern about the Freedom Walk website’s lack of clarity as to who is organizing the event and why registration information is being collected. "What really bothers me is that there is no privacy statement," said the associate director of the Washington, DC-based research organization. "It’s important for people to understand what they are signing up for and who is collecting the information and how it is going to be used. You know, knowledge is power."

Hicks explained that the reason DoD is requiring Freedom Walk participants to register is so the organizers will know how many people will be attending the event. "We want to make sure that we have enough water, the proper security around and along the route – that’s all," he explained.

All participants could undergo security screening upon check-in, the organizers have announced.

But only after numerous calls from TNS about privacy issues, the Defense Department finally responded that Privacy Act information will be posted on the site sometime today.

Freedom Walk participants will follow a two-mile route that starts near the Pentagon crash site and ends adjacent to the National Mall and Reflecting Pool. Hicks said he is not sure to what extent the route will be closed off to non-registrants, but the Freedom Walk website states that the event is open only to those who sign up before 10 a.m. on September 9, 2005, a full two days before the Walk kicks off.

All participants could undergo security screening upon check-in, the organizers have announced.

After the walk concludes, country singer Clint Black will hold a free concert on the National Mall. According to Hicks, the concert will be open to the public, including people who do not participate in Freedom Walk.

The Pentagon has insisted that the whole event is non-political and is not meant to make any statement about the war in Iraq. But anti-war groups, which waged a successful campaign to force the Washington Post to withdraw sponsorship of the event, say that the inclusion of Clint Black betrays the Defense Department’s true purpose. Black’s popular song "Iraq and Roll" has drawn heavy criticism from the American Friends Service Committee and others for its decidedly pro-war lyrics.

Anti-war groups have also accused the Pentagon of using the event to continue linking the September 11 terrorist attacks to US military operations in Iraq. "For the Pentagon to be instigating what is essentially a support-the-troops rally off of September 11 is offensive," activist Adam Eidinger told the Washington Post. "Because they're promoting a lie, that the war in Iraq had anything to do with September 11."

But Hicks insisted that the commemorative event, which is the first of its kind to be conducted by the Pentagon under the auspices of the America Supports You program, is "not a political statement." He stated that the purpose of the event is to allow participants a way to reflect upon September 11, 2001 and remember and pay respect to the people who died on that day, as well as "recommit to the ideals of freedom that we committed upon that day and the next day as we embarked upon this global war on terror."

Givens of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse concluded, "How ironic that in order to participate in an event that underscores our freedom, people must give up the freedom of anonymous assembly."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Erin Cassin is a contributing journalist.

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