Parents cannot remove their children’s 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 children’s 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).
“We hear from a lot of parents who have often felt quite isolated about
it all and haven’t been aware that this is happening all over the country,”
said the group’s spokeswoman, Felicity Crush.
Parents must contact the Pentagon directly to ask that their children’s
information not be released to recruiters, but the data is not removed from
the JAMRS database, according to Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
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. It’s necessary to keep the information in
the suppression file so the Pentagon can make sure it’s not being released,
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 recruiters’ 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 “provides the services with contact information on
millions of prospective recruits annually … Beyond list management services,
DM outreach initiatives include targeted fulfillment pieces directed at influencers,”
according to the program’s password-protected website.
In real terms, what that rhetoric looks like at the other end can stack up
to harassment, said Crush. “Kids have been relentlessly harassed,”
she said, “things like persistent phone calls — and you can’t
remove your phone numbers from their list because it’s 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
Her organization contends that the Pentagon’s 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. “The 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 records”
30 days before the publication of information, they noted. “The maintenance
of a system of records without meeting the notice requirements is a criminal
violation of the Privacy Act.”
But Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project
in New York, said protection offered by the Privacy Act — the 1974 statute
aimed at reducing the government’s collection of personal data on U.S.
citizens — might be overestimated. “The federal Privacy Act is to
some extent an over-hyped statute,” said Steinhardt. “It is largely
a statute that requires notice; it doesn’t give you any substantive rights.”
Questions from Congress
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, said he had grave concerns about the legality
of the database. “I think this is absolutely wrong,” he told the
Vermont Guardian. “You have the law, and then you have an administration
that says we don’t like the law so let’s find another way of doing
“When my kids were in school I would have been really angry if this had
happened,” said Leahy, whose youngest son enlisted in the Marines. “I
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.”
“Data mining and proliferation of using databases are all concerns because
it represents an administration that does not believe in checks and balances,”
said Leahy. “Can you imagine our country if a Joseph McCarthy or J. Edgar
Hoover has the electronic power these guys have today?”
Discomfort over the database extends to other members of Congress. Seven senators,
including New York’s Hillary Rodham Clinton and Wisconsin’s Russ
Feingold, both Democrats, sent a letter to Rumsfeld on June 24 asking him to
“immediately cease creation of this database.”
“This personal information, which would be obtained from schools as well
as from commercial data brokers, state drivers’ license records, and other
sources, could then be used to formulate and execute a targeted ‘marketing’
campaign to identify and recruit individuals based on these personal factors,”
In his July 11 response, Undersecretary of Defense David Chu said the database
was an important component in the nation’s volunteer military —
one that enables the United States to avoid a draft.
“The department collects basic information on youth in response to a
congressional mandate in 1982 that noted ‘it is essential that the Secretary
of Defense obtain and compile directory information pertaining to students enrolled
in secondary schools throughout the United States’ to support recruiting
for the all-volunteer force and avoid conscription,” he wrote to the senators.
Chu said the central database was designed to save the Pentagon money. “In
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 recruits.”
Leahy scoffed at such reasoning. “This is coming from a Pentagon that
tells us they don’t have money to pay for body armor for our troops over
in Iraq,” 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
to enlist in a privacy seal program regarding the handling of information collected
for this purpose.”
The Pentagon proposes a wide range of “blanket routine uses” that
allow an agency to disclose personal information to others without the individual’s
consent or knowledge, the groups wrote in their letter to Rumsfeld. “The
list of 14 DOD ‘blanket routine uses’ 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.”
In a separate statement, the Electronic Privacy Information Center said both
the Privacy Act and the DOD’s own internal regulations require the agency
to collect information directly from citizens when possible.
“The main commercial vendors that sell students’ 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,” 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 “hardly grants parents peace of mind.”
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 ACLU’s
Steinhardt said, “This is as much a political issue as anything else;
it’s an issue to be decided in the Congress. A state like Vermont could
take it up. It’s a perfect issue for a town meeting … calling on
your senators to pass some legislation.”
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 child’s full name, date of birth, current
address, and telephone number. Do not include a Social Security number.
To ask that your child’s 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 child’s full name, street address, date of birth, and
telephone number. Do not include a Social Security number.
For more information: www.leavemychildalone.org,
Vermont Guardian staffer Shay Totten contributed
to this report.