Washington The Defense Department began working Wednesday 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 data will be managed by BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., one of many marketing firms that use computers to analyze large amounts of data to target potential customers based on their personal profiles and habits.
"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.
Some data 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 data 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, Md., said the issue has "generated a great deal of angst" among many parents participating in an e-mail discussion group.
Under the new system, additional data will be collected from commercial data brokers, state driver's license records and other sources, including information already held by the military.
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.