Mining for kids: Children can¹t ³opt out² of Pentagon recruitment database

By Kathryn Casa | Vermont Guardian

posted January 17, 2006

Parents cannot remove their children¹s names from a Pentagon database that
includes highly personal information used to attract military recruits, the
Vermont Guardian has learned.

The Pentagon has spent more than $70.5 million on market research, national
advertising, website development, and management of the Joint Advertising
Market Research and Studies (JAMRS) database ‹ a storehouse of questionable
legality that includes the names and personal details of more than 30
million U.S. children and young people between the ages of 16 and 23.

The database is separate from information collected from schools that
receive federal education money. The No Child Left Behind Act requires
schools to report the names, addresses, and phone numbers of secondary
school students to recruiters, but the law also specifies that parents or
guardians may write a letter to the school asking that their children¹s
names not be released.

However, many parents have reported being surprised that their children are
contacted anyway, according to a San Francisco-based coalition called Leave
My Child Alone (LMCA).

³We hear from a lot of parents who have often felt quite isolated about it
all and haven¹t been aware that this is happening all over the country,²
said the group¹s spokeswoman, Felicity Crush.

Parents must contact the Pentagon directly to ask that their children¹s
information not be released to recruiters, but the data is not removed from
the JAMRS database, according to Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon

Instead, the information is moved to a suppression file, where it is
continuously updated with new data from private and government sources and
still made available to recruiters, Krenke said. It¹s necessary to keep the
information in the suppression file so the Pentagon can make sure it¹s not
being released, she said.

Krenke said the database is compiled using information from state motor
vehicles departments, the Selective Service, and data-mining firms that
collect and organize information from private companies. In addition to
names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and phone numbers, the database
may include cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages,
ethnicity, and subjects of interest.

She said the Pentagon spends about $500,000 annually to purchase the data
from private companies, and has paid more than $70 million since 2002 to
Mullen Advertising ‹ a Massachusetts firm whose clients include General
Motors, Hooked on Phonics, XM Satellite Radio, and 3Com ‹ to target
recruiters¹ messages toward teens and young adults.

The Boston Business Journal reported in October that the Pentagon had spent
a total of $206 million on the JAMRS program to date, and could spend
another $137 million over the next two years.

Invasion of privacy?

The JAMRS program ³provides the services with contact information on
millions of prospective recruits annually Š Beyond list management services,
DM outreach initiatives include targeted fulfillment pieces directed at
influencers,² according to the program¹s password-protected website.

In real terms, what that rhetoric looks like at the other end can stack up
to harassment, said Crush. ³Kids have been relentlessly harassed,² she said,
³things like persistent phone calls ‹ and you can¹t remove your phone
numbers from their list because it¹s the government; people being called on
numbers that have been listed as private, or for emergency only; kids under
17 called at home, night after night, and not being given a realistic
picture about life in the military, particularly during a time of war.²

Her organization contends that the Pentagon¹s conduct is illegal under the
federal Privacy Act, which requires notification and public comment whenever
new data is being compiled on individuals by any branch of government.

The Pentagon maintains it has provided that notice, posted in the Federal
Register on May 23, but LMCA and other JAMRS critics point out that because
new data is being collected daily, JAMRS is failing to fulfill the
notification requirements of the Privacy Act.

Last fall, 100 privacy and civil rights groups sent a letter to Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging him to dismantle the database. ³The Privacy
Act requires that agencies publish in the federal register upon
establishment or revision a notice of the existence and character of the
system of records² 30 days before the publication of information, they
noted. ³The maintenance of a system of records without meeting the notice
requirements is a criminal violation of the Privacy Act.²

But Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU¹s Technology and Liberty Project
in New York, said protection offered by the Privacy Act ‹ the 1974 statute
aimed at reducing the government¹s collection of personal data on U.S.
citizens ‹ might be overestimated. ³The federal Privacy Act is to some
extent an over-hyped statute,² said Steinhardt. ³It is largely a statute
that requires notice; it doesn¹t give you any substantive rights.²

Questions from Congress

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, said he had grave concerns about the
legality of the database. ³I think this is absolutely wrong,² he told the
Vermont Guardian. ³You have the law, and then you have an administration
that says we don¹t like the law so let¹s find another way of doing it.²

³When my kids were in school I would have been really angry if this had
happened,² said Leahy, whose youngest son enlisted in the Marines. ³I would
have been absolutely ripped if they would have gone into his high school or
other records to contact him this way; I know nothing that allows it.²

³Data mining and proliferation of using databases are all concerns because
it represents an administration that does not believe in checks and
balances,² said Leahy. ³Can you imagine our country if a Joseph McCarthy or
J. Edgar Hoover has the electronic power these guys have today?²

Discomfort over the database extends to other members of Congress. Seven
senators, including New York¹s Hillary Rodham Clinton and Wisconsin¹s Russ
Feingold, both Democrats, sent a letter to Rumsfeld on June 24 asking him to
³immediately cease creation of this database.²

³This personal information, which would be obtained from schools as well as
from commercial data brokers, state drivers¹ license records, and other
sources, could then be used to formulate and execute a targeted Œmarketing¹
campaign to identify and recruit individuals based on these personal
factors,² they noted.

In his July 11 response, Undersecretary of Defense David Chu said the
database was an important component in the nation¹s volunteer military ‹ one
that enables the United States to avoid a draft.

³The department collects basic information on youth in response to a
congressional mandate in 1982 that noted Œit is essential that the Secretary
of Defense obtain and compile directory information pertaining to students
enrolled in secondary schools throughout the United States¹ to support
recruiting for the all-volunteer force and avoid conscription,² he wrote to
the senators.

Chu said the central database was designed to save the Pentagon money. ³In
the past, the data were compiled by each of the services independently. In
order to achieve significant cost savings, the data are now purchased by the
department, housed centrally, and sent out to the services. The services use
these data to provide information and marketing materials to potential

Leahy scoffed at such reasoning. ³This is coming from a Pentagon that tells
us they don¹t have money to pay for body armor for our troops over in Iraq,²
he said.

Chu also said the Pentagon had no intention of using the information for
purposes other than targeted recruitment.

But according to the privacy group, BeNow, the direct marketing company
chosen by the Pentagon to compile the data, is owned by the credit reporting
company Equifax and does not have a privacy policy, ³nor has it troubled
itself to enlist in a privacy seal program regarding the handling of
information collected for this purpose.²

The Pentagon proposes a wide range of ³blanket routine uses² that allow an
agency to disclose personal information to others without the individual¹s
consent or knowledge, the groups wrote in their letter to Rumsfeld. ³The
list of 14 DOD Œblanket routine uses¹ include: disclosures to
law-enforcement; state and local tax authorities; employment queries from
other agencies; and disclosure of records to foreign authorities. Although
individuals can opt out of recruitment solicitations, they cannot opt out of
this enormous database.²

In a separate statement, the Electronic Privacy Information Center said both
the Privacy Act and the DOD¹s own internal regulations require the agency to
collect information directly from citizens when possible.

³The main commercial vendors that sell students¹ data, American Student List
and Student Marketing Group, were both pursued recently by consumer
protection authorities for setting up front groups that tricked students
into revealing their personal information,² according to the center.

What to do

The Leave My Child Alone coalition is urging the Pentagon to add an 800
number and online opt-out links to its websites. The group concedes,
however, that given reports of massive security breaches at data firms, the
fact that the information remains on file ³hardly grants parents peace of

One California lawmaker is sponsoring state legislation that would require
high schools to include opt-out information on the emergency forms that
parents must fill out annually for school records. In one California school
district that implemented such a policy, the number of families choosing to
opt out went from 16 percent to 63 percent, Crush said.

Meanwhile, asked what parents could do about the Pentagon database, the
ACLU¹s Steinhardt said, ³This is as much a political issue as anything else;
it¹s an issue to be decided in the Congress. A state like Vermont could take
it up. It¹s a perfect issue for a town meeting Š calling on your senators to
pass some legislation.²

Information and action

Parents seeking to determine whether information about their children is
contained in the JAMRS database system should address typewritten inquiries
The Department of Defense
c/o JAMRS, Direct Marketing Program Officer
Defense Human Resources Activity
4040 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 200
Arlington, VA 22203-1613
Requests should contain the child¹s full name, date of birth, current
address, and telephone number. Do not include a Social Security number.

To ask that your child¹s name be added to the suppression files of the
database, send a typewritten request to:
Joint Advertising and Marketing Research
& Studies Office (JAMRS)
Attention: Opt Out
4040 North Fairfax Drive, Ste. 200
Arlington, VA 22203-1613
Include the child¹s full name, street address, date of birth, and telephone
number. Do not include a Social Security number.

For more information:,

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