U.S. Military Hires Marketing Firm To Help Find Recruits

However, firm's policies for protecting sensitive information are unclear.

The U.S. Department of Defense has enlisted a marketing firm to help identify potential recruits by compiling a database of millions of high school and college students across the country.

Social Security numbers, home addresses, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and even the subjects the students are taking in school will all be included in the records, according to the Washington Post.

Pentagon spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ellen confirmed with MTV News that the military is collecting this information for a database, and that it has been doing so in some form "for many years." "We do it because it's useful for our recruiters to help them identify qualified candidates for specific career fields," she said. "Some of the systems we operate are very technical, so we need people with high GPAs to operate them." Krenke said the Defense Department has been using JAMRS, the department's official program for market research and studies, since 2003, and prior to that, individual military services collected that data on their own.

But at a time when identity theft constitutes a substantial risk for many Americans, the notion of having a database containing such information has left many privacy advocates crying foul. "This recent revelation ... is yet another example of the government's unregulated collection and use of our personal information," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Program. "We understand the Pentagon's need to increase its recruitment efforts, but the government should not be 'keeping book' on private individuals who are not suspected of any wrongdoing."

Steinhardt said the move violates a principle that Congress sought to protect with the passage of the Privacy Act of 1974, which reduced the government's collection of personal information on Americans. "The government should not be able to evade the law," he said, "and it is especially disturbing when it's targeted at kids as young as 16." He said the ACLU fears that sensitive information about the lives of millions of students, including data susceptible to identity theft, like Social Security numbers, will end up in the hands of other public and private parties.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center was among a coalition of privacy groups that issued a statement to the Pentagon on Wednesday opposing the creation of the database. "We support the U.S. armed forces and understand the DoD faces serious challenging in recruiting for the military, but the collection of this information is not consistent with the Privacy Act. It is a privacy risk and unnecessary."

Krenke said the Defense Department is acutely aware of the substantial security required to protect personal data and "makes every effort to do so" by routinely checking all of its vendors, including BeNow Inc., which is managing the new database, to ensure their full compliance with all requirements of the Privacy Act.

However, the Post noted that BeNow does not have a privacy policy published on its Web site, nor does it list a chief privacy officer or security officer on its executive team, leaving critics like the EPIC to worry that students' information stored in the database could be used for purposes outside of military recruitment. "Although individuals can opt out of military recruitment, they cannot opt out of this enormous database," EPIC said.

The Army has been battling with low recruitment numbers for the last four months, although it has upped enlistment incentives (see "Army Recruitment Down For Fourth Consecutive Month"). But with insurgency attacks still rampant and no sign of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the majority of Americans say they are beginning to lose their patience with the war and the way President Bush has handled it (see "Polls: Americans Tiring Of Iraq War, Less Happy With Bush").