Pentagon builds a database to recruit teens for military

Privacy advocates say the program is a 'bad idea'

Two years after terminating their Total Information Awareness (TIA) program, Pentagon officials face another privacy battle over the legitimacy of a database initiative that identifies U.S. teenagers for military service.

The Joint Advertising and Market Research Recruiting Database became public after a comment period for the project ended last month and a privacy group called for its cancellation.

The controversy resulted from the military's collection of personal information about 16- to 18-year-olds, including their Social Security numbers. It also stemmed from DOD's announcement of the initiative in May, even though it started in 2003.

An official at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an advocacy group, called the military's database initiative a "bad idea" and appealed to DOD to scrap its proposal.

"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," said Chris Hoofnagle, senior counselor and director of West Coast operations at EPIC.

EPIC officials want DOD to allow teenagers to opt out of the database. And they don't want the database to include Social Security numbers, Hoofnagle said.

But Pentagon officials defended the initiative. Speaking to journalists after testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee June 23, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the department takes privacy seriously.

"We always worry about privacy issues, and certainly, as you know, we've put together a panel on that subject, distinguished Americans who've looked at issues as they've come along as technologies have changed and circumstances" have changed, Rumsfeld said.

The panel he referred to is DOD's Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee, created in 2003 to advise Rumsfeld on legal and policy considerations regarding public data collected as part of the war on terrorism. The idea for the committee resulted primarily from privacy concerns pertaining to TIA, an initiative to scan public and private databases for potential activity that could be linked to terrorists. Congress terminated funding for TIA later that year.

David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, oversees the database initiative. He clarified how the database handles Social Security numbers during a media briefing June 23.

"We do get the Social Security numbers, and they're used in a scrambled manner from the Selective Service System file," Chu said. "They're used to purge the list of duplicates and to ensure its cohesion, but they are not maintained."

Air Force Col. Ellen Krenke, a DOD spokeswoman, said employees in DOD's Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies Office who administer the military recruiting database use Social Security numbers only to ensure accuracy and prevent duplication. They do not distribute them.

BeNOW, a database marketing services firm in Wakefield, Mass., assists DOD with the initiative, but a company operator referred questions to Krenke.

Defense officials have described the military recruiting database as providing "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."

Dan Goure, a vice president at the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank, said he supports the database. The growing economy, fewer U.S. teenagers and the global war on terrorism will continue to make military recruitment difficult, he said.

"There is a problem with recruiting that is likely to grow worse with Iraq and even after the conclusion of Iraq," Goure said. "The question ought to be: Do you want a fully capable, all-volunteer military?"

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above