This is breathtaking. The Pentagon wants to create the marketing database to end all marketing databases.
The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of all U.S. college students and high school students between 16 and 18 years old 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 an array of personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying.
"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.
Back in my youth, during the days of Nixon paranoia, before libertarian meant right-wing fellow traveler, this kind of news would have sent us running for the hills to take advantage of that cache of canned peas and ammunition that we all had waiting. In those days, survivalism was an apolitical impulse, and we would have been happy to make common cause with those who believed that the name of the database was 666. Today, the libertarians (now with a capital "L"), the survivalists, and the 666 nuts are as likely to be on the side of the government
as against it.
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.
This is brilliant. If you voluntarily fact-check their data for them, they promise to keep your information in a separate file that will spare you the junk mail. Other than that, they intend to keep your files and use them. Their only concession is that they will be more discreet about ending your right to privacy.
Before we get too testy and call this an unprecedented invasion into the privacy of young people and families with teenagers, the Pentagon rushes to assure us that most of this privacy has already been stolen by the Bush administration.
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.
But John, you must be saying, the Pentagon only wants to use this information to resolve the recruitment crisis. Surely, they wouldn't use this information for any other purposes or keep it after the subjects are too old for recruitment.
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.
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.
Let's summarize: the Pentagon, in order to make an end-run around federal privacy laws that limit the ability of most branches of the government to collect information about citizens, has hired a private marketing firm to collect vast amounts of information about every citizen between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Now, since most people pass through the ages of sixteen and eighteen on their way to becoming adults, this will give them a legacy file of an increasingly large proportion of the populace as time goes by. Presumably, only declared gays and lesbians will be safe, since they aren't eligible for military service. Oh, and non-Evangelical-Christians in the Air Force officers' corps. There is no danger of this information being misused, because they only intend to share it with multiple branches of the federal and state governments, and people running for reelection to Congress. Once a department of the government has information about citizens, they never use it for other than its original stated purposes, unless an unelected administrator decides to do so.
At least we are secure in knowing that this information will be safe in the hands of corporate America, who never misplace, misuse, or lose valuable consumer data.
Thanks to the Farmer for being the first to warn us. The Farmer understands that a cache full of canned peas will be worth its weight in gold when civilization collapses and gold is worth its weight in - um - peas.