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The US military has retained the services of a commercial privacy invasion outfit to assemble detailed dossiers on all American high school children and college students, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Direct-marketing database outfit BeNow Inc will manage students' information for the US Department of Defense (DoD), in order to sidestep federal regulations limiting the amount of citizens' personal data that government agencies are permitted to retain.

By combining commercial data with information already accessible to the government, the DoD hopes to assemble "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."

Military recruiters will then be able to target qualified candidates over the age of sixteen, with complete dossiers of their educational, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. This will enable them to initiate contact with the most effective sales pitch, emphasizing, say, job security to weak students with poor employment prospects, or prestige assignments to those with records of high academic and/or athletic achievement.

The Pentagon's opt-out plan is absurd. It will require students or parents to submit detailed information to be held in a separate database, and checked regularly against the "working" database, to ensure that there are no matches. Thus one is given no option of withholding the information in the first place, but rather, one gets a mere choice of databases, with all the potential for deliberate abuse and accidental disclosure that this implies.

The DoD says that it is confident that all of its information contractors understand and abide by its (putatively strict) data security practices, so there is no reason for concern.

No doubt MasterCard felt the same way about its payment processor CardSystems Solutions, which recently coughed up 40 million credit card records. ®

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