The Pentagon has quietly announced plans to create a database with the names of every college student and of many high school students as well.
The database would include for each student, if available, a name, date of birth, gender, address, Social Security number, e-mail address, ethnicity, telephone number, grade point average, education level, name of college attending, and any relevant information about expressions of interest in enlisting in the military.
According to the announcement, the purpose of the database is to help in military recruiting efforts.
Privacy groups, however, are calling the database a violation of the Pentagon's own privacy rules and are saying that it would needlessly risk students' rights. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has filed a lengthy complaint about the proposal.
"This database represents an unprecedented foray of the government into direct marketing techniques previously only performed by the private sector," the center said in a statement. "These techniques simply are not compatible with the Privacy Act, as direct marketing tactics increasingly call for massive amounts of personal information. And while numerous laws protect individuals from commercial direct marketing techniques, these protections only apply in commercial transactions, leaving individuals with little recourse against harassing or unwanted junk mail, telemarketing, and spam from the government."
It added, "This database is a bad idea. The DOD should scrap its proposal to create this mega database of young Americans and rely upon traditional mass-media advertising to reach potential recruits."
The database proposal comes at a time that increasing numbers of college students report being afraid that the draft may be revived -- despite repeated denials from the Bush administration that any such plans are being considered. And the proposal comes at a time of considerable controversy over a proposed Education Department database on students.
The Education Department's idea is to create a database that would allow government officials and educators to track the progress of students throughout the educational system. Most current tracking efforts are limited to students' progress at individual institutions, so it is hard to track the many students who move from college to college.
But some college groups have objected to the idea -- in part out of fear that data collected for one purpose (in this case education) might tempt Congress to later require that it be turned over to another agency (such as, for instance, the Pentagon).