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Hanson v. Rumsfeld (Challenging DOD military recruitment database of high school students)

This case, filed in 2006, involved a Department of Defense (DOD) database of high school students’ personal information that was used for military recruitment. The New York Civil Liberties Union sued the DOD, charging that maintaining the database violated students’ privacy rights and federal law. Congress approved a law in 1982 authorizing the DOD to create a database of information about American high school students to assist in military recruitment. But the 1982 law set important limits to protect students’ privacy. The lawmakers specified that the DOD must collect only basic contact and educational information, must refrain from collecting information about students younger than 17 years of age, must store the information for no more than three years, and must keep the information private.


In 2005, the DOD announced that it had created a new database that sought to index a wide variety of private and personal information about every American high school student, including gender, ethnicity and social security number. The database clearly violated the federal law. The DOD also announced that it would keep the information for five years, rather than the three allowed by the statute, and that it will share the information widely with law enforcement and other agencies and individuals, rather than keeping it private.

The lawsuit was settled on Jan. 8, 2007. In keeping with the limits established by Congress, DOD agreed to stop collecting students’ social security numbers; to stop using the information for purposes other than military recruitment (including sharing the information with law enforcement, national security, tax collection and other outside agencies); to keep the information only for three years; and to clarify opt-out procedures for children and parents who do not want their information in the database and do not want to be recruited by the military. DOD has also agreed to clarify that the private marketing company who maintains this enormous database on the government’s behalf is bound by the same privacy laws that operate whenever the federal government collects and maintains information about people. 

S.D.N.Y., Index No. 06 CV 3118 (direct)

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