Orgs question Pentagon database on students

A coalition of privacy advocates and anti-war groups called on the Pentagon last week to halt use of a controversial database that collects information about students for military recruitment purposes.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed by more than 100 organizations, advocates condemned the Defense Department for distributing files containing the personal information of 30 million U.S. residents between ages 16 and 25.

The letter chides the department for giving certain personal details such as race and Social Security numbers to a commercial marketing company. Some information can be passed on without an individual’s knowledge or consent, and cannot be withdrawn once processed.

The database is part of the department’s Joint Advertising and Market Research Studies – or JAMRS – program, which aims to promote military service as a career option to young adults.

Opponents say the JAMRS database violated key parts of the Privacy Act by not publicly disclosing its use before it began operating, and that it collects more information than is necessary to fulfill the program’s purpose.

“JAMRS goes beyond military recruitment by proposing market research studies such as ad tracking, attitudes of mothers towards military service, and polls of young adults,” the letter said.

Some advocates used harsh language in condemning the program. Janine Hansen, chairperson of Mothers Against the Draft, one of the organizations that signed the letter, said the database was invasive and should be eliminated.

“We’re outraged by the Pentagon’s predatory and illegal actions and in full support of this effort to end the JAMRS recruitment database,” Hansen said in a statement, adding that “particularly troubling is the fact that the Pentagon compiled this massive, centralized database in secrecy, and has been using it for three years before giving public notice as required by the Privacy Act.”

Meanwhile, others have begun working to grant military recruiters greater access to college campuses. Ahead of a Supreme Court decision that will determine whether colleges can restrict military presence at their schools, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni has launched a campaign asking university trustees to voluntarily accommodate recruiting efforts.

In the past, private universities such Stanford and Harvard have barred recruitment on the basis that the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy violates their institutions’ anti-discrimination policies. The ACTA calls such actions hypocritical.

The organization’s officials said that approximately three quarters of the funding for sponsored research at most large research institutions come from the federal government, and it is wrong to bar military recruiters while accepting taxpayer money.

“These elite institutions offer a perfect case study in Hypocrisy 101,” said ACTA President Anne Neal in a statement. “Either they should reject federal money because of their convictions, or let recruiters on campus, now and forever.”

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