Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hey Kids! Join the Army! Win an iPod!

Yeah, come on all of you, big strong men,
Uncle Sam needs your help again.
Country Joe and the Fish

It looks like the Pentagon is getting desperate.

The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students 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 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.


Chris Jay Hoofnagle, West Coast director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the system “an audacious plan to target-market kids, as young as 16, for military solicitation.”

This is disgusting on several levels. First, they are so desperate to get new recruits to fight an unpopular war that they have to hire a marketing firm to sell their story — it’s not enough anymore to appeal to the recruit’s patriotism or offer help with college. Second, they’re compiling information on ethnicity, as if that was somehow relevant…? And third, the last couple of weeks have shown that hiring outside vendors to handle sensitive information can be dangerous in terms of identity theft.

On the other hand, if some kid joins the Army based on this plan and ends up driving along the airport road in Baghdad and a bomb goes off, identity theft will be the least of his worries.