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The Pentagon's "teen snatching" database

The WaPo reports that the Pentagon needs fresh meat so badly that it’s collecting boatloads of data on 16-18 year olds so that they can cherry-pick for “extra freshness.” The ability to do this was slipped into “No Child Left Behind.” Puts a fresh new spin on that term, huh? By letting private firms manage the data, the military was trying to avoid scrutiny of these tactics.

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.

…”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.”

Also, considering the increasing and alarming breaches of security by private companies (Citibank, Mastercard, etc.) that hold personal data that could be used for identity theft, do you really trust Uncle Sam to effectively vet this contractor?

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.

That statement really reassures me.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding