New U.S. database targets young people, oppressed communities

Military recruiters will use new database to recruit high school students.

Photo: Spencer Grant

The Pentagon announced on June 22 that it would be creating an electronic student database. The Department of Defense has been working with a private marketing firm, BeNow Inc. of Wakefield, Mass., to collect personal information on high school students from ages 16 to 18 years old, as well as all college students.

BeNow Inc. is one of many private marketing companies that collect and sort peoples’ personal information to see if it fits the profile of potential customers. Although the database was officially announced last month, the Pentagon has been collecting information on youth across the country since 2002. The database has already processed information on 30 million people, with 12 million of them being potential “recruitment targets,” according to a July 1 Harvard Crimson article. Information will also be collected from commercial data brokers, state driver’s license records and other sources.

The information is collected without the consent or notification of the individuals themselves. The Pentagon can share the information stored on the database with other government departments such as law enforcement, state tax authorities and Congress. Again, all of this can be done without notifying or getting consent from the youth being targeted. This is a direct attack on the civil liberties of youth and students.

The database will include a student’s personal information including birth date, Social Security number, e-mail address, home address, grade-point average, ethnicity, gender and field of study. The purpose of the database is to help military recruiters meet their goals by identifying students as potential recruits. This database could also be used for racial and economic profiling by the U.S. government.

Recruiters already focus their attention in primarily poor and oppressed neighborhoods. The tracking system is just one more tool for them to use when soliciting students and youth for military service in a war that is being fought out of greed and for U.S. domination over the Middle East. As the number of U.S. deaths and injuries continue to increase in Iraq, youth and students are realizing that this war is not being fought with their interests in mind.

By hiring out a private firm to create the database, the Pentagon is weaseling its way around existing laws that restrict the government’s ability to collect personal information without the individual’s consent or knowledge. The Privacy Act of 1974 was passed by Congress to limit the government’s ability to collect personal information. Private marketing firms like BeNow Inc. do not have to abide by the same restrictions. The Act also states that the government must ask an individual for information before obtaining it from another source.

‘No Child Left Behind’

A little known fact about this Act is that parents do have the ability to keep their children’s information off of this list. Some schools have begun to make this option more visible to the parents by providing the form each year to every parent. Other schools, under pressure from parents and students, are making it harder for military recruiters to harass students by not allowing them in the lunch rooms or hallways of their schools and insisting that the students must approach them rather than the other way around.

Photo: Donna E. Natale Planas

Unlike the No Child Left Behind Act, the new database offers no way for a parent or student to remove their name or information. They can request that they not be put on the potential recruiters list, but that does not take their name or personal information off of the list.

There are many violations and problems with the database and the government’s ever increasing encroachment in peoples’ lives. This blatant violation of privacy shows the desperation and the failure of the U.S. military to continue to recruit youth and students.

The U.S. armed services have repeatedly missed their targets for recruitment in branches all over the United States. According to a July 31 South Florida Sun-Sentinel article the Army may not reach their goal of getting 80,000 new recruits by the end of year. The projected shortfall could reach 7,000 soldiers, officials said.

Military recruiters are trained to lie and use pressure tactics and bribery to win youth over to military service. For example, a recruiter was caught in Colorado telling a high school journalist posing as a potential recruit that he could go onto the Internet to obtain a high school diploma so that he could join the military, according to the July 3 New Haven Register article.

In some areas of the country the failure to meet recruitment goals are much more extreme. For example, in South Florida the shortfalls are topping 50 percent. General Richard Myers has called for more “Americans” to enlist in this “very noble work”. He also said that recruitment has become a major problem for the Pentagon and that they have increased their recruitment efforts by expanding advertising budgets, adding recruiters and increasing bonuses and benefits offered to enlistees.

Increased recruiting, increased struggle

Activists, parents, students and others are angered by the government’s approach to dealing with their recruitment shortfalls. Youth especially are speaking out about the injustices and violations of their privacy involved with the creation of this new tracking system.

Aimee Hunter, an organizer for Youth & Student ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) who is involved in counter-recruiter activities at community college campuses all over Los Angeles told Socialism and Liberation, “Students want military recruiters off of their campuses. They do not want to fight in a war for oil. They don’t want to take part in oppressing the Iraqi people. Organizing efforts are already starting so that we can do everything possible to kick recruiters off our campuses and stop our fellow students from going into the U.S. armed forces.”

At a time when school budgets and healthcare are being slashed and huge layoffs are occurring on a daily basis, the government has decided it has enough money to increase recruitment efforts for more war and occupation. Youth and students are fighting back. They are a vital and growing part of the struggle against the war, racism and occupation.

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