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Pentagon: database for high school kids

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Pentagon: database for high school kids PostThu Jun 23, 2005 6:50 pm  Reply with quote

Pentagon creating student database
Recruiting tool for military raises privacy concerns

WASHINGTON - The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students 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 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.

"The purpose of the system . . . is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service," according to the official notice of the program.

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 information 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.

School systems that fail to provide that information risk losing federal funds, although individual parents or students can withhold information that would be transferred to the military by their districts. John Moriarty, president of the PTA at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, said the issue has "generated a great deal of angst" among many parents participating in an e-mail discussion group.

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.

Some cry foul
But privacy advocates said using database marketers for military recruitment is inappropriate.

"We support the U.S. armed forces, and understand that DoD faces serious challenges in recruiting for the military," a coalition of privacy groups wrote to the Pentagon after notice of the program was published in the Federal Register a month ago. "But . . . 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."

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."

He added that collecting Social Security numbers was not only unnecessary but posed a needless risk of identity fraud. Theft of Social Security numbers and other personal information from data brokers, government agencies, financial institutions and other companies is rampant.

"What's ironic is that the private sector has ways of uniquely identifying individuals without using Social Security numbers for marketing," he said.

The Pentagon statements said the military is "acutely aware of the substantial security required to protect personal data," and that Social Security numbers will be used only to "provide a higher degree of accuracy in matching duplicate data records."

The Pentagon said it routinely monitors its vendors to ensure compliance with its security standards.

Krenke said she did not know how much the contract with BeNow was worth, or whether it was bid competitively.

Officials at BeNow did not return several messages seeking comment. The company's Web site does not have a published privacy policy, nor does it list either a chief privacy officer or security officer on its executive team.

According to the Federal Register notice, the data will be open to "those who require the records in the performance of their official duties." It said the data would be protected by passwords.

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.

Some see the program as part of a growing encroachment of government into private lives, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It's just typical of how voracious government is when it comes to personal information," said James W. Harper, a privacy expert with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "Defense is an area where government has a legitimate responsibility . . . but there are a lot of data fields they don't need and shouldn't be keeping. Ethnicity strikes me as particularly inappropriate."

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the Social Security Administration relaxed its privacy policies and provided data on citizens to the FBI in connection with terrorism investigations.
2005 The Washington Post Company

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PostThu Jun 23, 2005 6:54 pm  Reply with quote,1,7164075.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

Activists tell parents to have schools deny kids' data to military


PHILADELPHIA -- Nancy Carroll didn't know schools were giving military recruiters her family's contact information until a recruiter called her 17-year-old granddaughter.

That didn't sit well with Carroll, who believes recruiters unfairly target minority students. So she joined activists across the country who are urging families to notify schools that they don't want their children's contact information given out.

"People of color who go into the military are put on the front line," said the 67-year-old Carroll, who is black.

President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to provide military recruiters with student phone numbers and addresses or risk losing millions in federal funds. Parents or students 18 and over can "opt out" by submitting a written request to keep the information private.

But critics say schools do not always convey that message. In New Mexico, the American Civil Liberties Union chapter sued the Albuquerque Public Schools last month, charging it does not adequately inform parents of the opt-out provision.

Some critics say the law provides an unfair opportunity for the military to sway young minds, especially in economically depressed communities.

"They're not going to all the schools. They're going to the schools where they figure the kids will have less chance to go to college," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.). "It's an insidious kind of draft, quite frankly."

"I wouldn't want them to join," Carroll said of her grandchildren.

But Pentagon officials say the military deserves the same access to students that schools give to colleges and employers.

"In the past, it was all too common for a school district to make student directory information readily available to vendors, prospective employers and postsecondary institutions while intentionally excluding the services," Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said.

"Having access to 17- to 24-year-olds is very key to us," said Maj. Gen. Michael Rochelle, commander of the Army Recruiting Command, at a news conference last week.

Asked about aggressive recruiters targeting young people, he said: "I would certainly hope that we are harassing no one. ... I'm not asking my recruiters to be any less aggressive. I would not wish for them to be overbearing or annoying."

As military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are having trouble attracting recruits to their reserve forces, though only the Army is falling short in attracting people for its active-duty ranks.

Andrew Rinaldi, a senior at Edison High School in Edison, N.J., filed an opt-out letter but said he was contacted anyway. He said the recruiter mocked his pacifist views.

"They're becoming more aggressive," he said.

None of the nation's approximately 22,600 high schools has failed to comply, Krenke said. None has lost funding.

Before No Child Left Behind became law in 2002, about 12 percent of the nation's schools refused to turn over student records to military recruiters, Pentagon officials said.

In Montclair, N.J., more than 80 percent of Montclair High School students have opted out.

"It's a place where military recruiters are not likely to have a ton of success, anyway, partly because ... a lot of parents can assist their kids with going to college," school district spokeswoman Laura Federico said.

In the urban blight of North Philadelphia, Joshua Gordy said the lure of college money led him to join the Army Reserve at age 17. He said recruiters at his high school told him he could earn $35,000 for college.

That hasn't happened. Gordy, a 20-year-old reservist, said he apparently failed to send in the right paperwork in time. He hopes to enroll in community college this fall.

I wonder how many people at the Pentagon see their own kids as being potential recruits?
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PostThu Jun 23, 2005 7:06 pm  Reply with quote

Social Security files opened to FBI
The Social Security Administration has relaxed privacy rules and searched thousands of files for FBI terrorism investigations.

By Eric Lichtblau


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

WASHINGTON The Social Security Administration has relaxed its privacy restrictions and searched thousands of its files at the FBI's request as part of terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, newly disclosed records and interviews show.

The privacy policy typically bans the sharing of such sensitive information, which includes home addresses, medical information and other personal data. But Social Security agency senior officials agreed to an "ad hoc" policy that authorized the release of information to the FBI for Sept. 11-related investigations because officials saw a "life-threatening" emergency, internal memos say.

The Internal Revenue Service also worked with the bureau and the Social Security agency to provide income and taxpayer information in terror inquiries, law enforcement officials said. Officials said the IRS information was limited because legal restrictions prevented the sharing of taxpayer information except by court order or in cases of "imminent danger" or other exemptions. The tax agency refused to comment.

The Social Security memorandums were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group.

Social Security and law enforcement officials said that they were sensitive to privacy concerns and had put safeguards in place, but that they believed that the information gave investigators a valuable tool.

"We ran thousands of Social Security numbers," said a former senior FBI official who insisted on anonymity because the files involved internal cases.

"We got very useful information, that's for sure," the former official said. "We recognized the value of having that information to track leads, and, to their credit, so did the Social Security Administration."

But Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who has sought information from the Social Security agency on the issue, said the new policy had "real civil liberties implications for abuse." Maloney also questioned whether Congress was adequately informed.

"If we don't know when the Social Security Administration decides to change its rules to disclose personal information," she said, "I think Americans have a right to be skeptical about their privacy."

Marcia Hofmann, director of the Open Government Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, acknowledged the need for investigators to have access to vital information.

"But an ad hoc policy like this is so broad that it allows law enforcement to obtain really sensitive information by merely claiming that the information is relevant to the 9/11 investigation," Hofmann said. "There appears to be very little oversight."

The Social Security agency also agreed to waive normal privacy restrictions for information related to the FBI investigation on the Washington region sniper attacks in 2002, the internal memos show. But it doesn't appear that any data was ultimately turned over.

The agency agreed two days after the Sept. 11 attacks to give the FBI access to material to obtain information on the hijackers, anyone with "relevant information" on the attacks and victims' relatives.

Under Social Security Administration policy, which goes beyond federal privacy law, such information can't typically be shared with law enforcement officials unless the subject has been indicted or convicted of a crime. A looser policy was updated and reauthorized last year, the internal memos show, and Social Security officials said Tuesday that it remained in place.

"Thankfully, these requests don't come up that often," Jonathan Cantor, the privacy officer at the agency, said. "You just have to look at each situation as it comes in, and it's my job to balance the privacy of the records against legitimate requests for that information."

Bush administration officials say it is imperative for investigators to have broad tools to track terror suspects. But some members of Congress are pushing to curtail the powers that the USA Patriot Act and other initiatives give the FBI.

Critics point to recent episodes of broad information sharing such as the Census Bureau giving customs officials information on Arab Americans and airlines giving the FBI data on 257 million passengers after the Sept. 11 attacks as evidence that the balance has swung too far from protecting privacy and civil liberties.

"This kind of pattern," Hofmann said, "just opens the door to abuse."
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