Military recruiting database draws scrutiny

Pentagon officials are defending their plans to set up a database initiative that identifies U.S. teenagers for military service.

The 3-year-old effort came to the forefront after its public remarks’ period ended June 23 and a privacy group called for its termination. Defense Department officials are now reviewing comments, said Air Force Col. Ellen Krenke, a DOD spokeswoman.

The controversy resulted from the military’s collection of personal information about 16- to 18-year-olds, including their Social Security numbers. Officials in DOD’s Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies Office, which oversees the initiative, do not distribute the Social Security numbers, using them only to ensure accuracy and to prevent duplication, Krenke said.

While speaking to journalists after testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee June 23, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the department takes privacy issues 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, and I'm not knowledgeable about the details of this but it certainly is something the department has to be sensitive to,” Rumsfeld said.

David Chu, undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, clarified how the office 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.”

Chris Jay Hoofnagle, senior counselor and director of West Coast operations at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group located in Washington, D.C., called for the initiative’s cancellation June 23. “This database is a bad idea,” Hoofnagle said. “DOD should scrap its proposal to create this mega database of young Americans and rely upon traditional mass-media advertising to reach potential recruits.”

DOD’s Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies Office took over the military’s database recruiting efforts in 2003. The services previously conducted this research on their own, Krenke said.

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