In an agreement to settle a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Defense today announced major changes to its database of information about high school students, which is used for military recruitment efforts. The changes will protect the privacy of American high school students and give students and their families more tools to exempt themselves from aggressive military recruitment in their schools and their homes.
The NYCLU sued on behalf of several high school students after the DoD's billion dollar Joint Advertising and Market Research Studies (JAMRS) military recruitment program began collecting, maintaining, and distributing their personal and private information, and that of millions of other high school students, in a rogue database. Under today's settlement, the DoD will:
- stop disseminating student information to law enforcement, intelligence or other agencies and instead limit use of the JAMRS database to military recruiting;
- limit to three years the time the DoD retains student information;
- stop collecting student Social Security numbers; and
- establish and clarify procedures by which students can block the military from entering information about them in the database and have their information removed.
"The students who brought this lawsuit stood up for the privacy rights of all American high school students," said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. "Our job now is to spread the word that young people who don't want to be harassed by the military must do a 'double opt-out' – by both telling the Defense Department that they want out of the JAMRS database and telling their high schools not to provide the military with their contact information."
Announced in 2005, the DoD's massive database flouted restrictions passed by Congress in a 1982 law intended to balance the promotion of military recruitment with the protection of students' privacy. Lawmakers specified that the DoD must keep the information private and use only for military recruiting purposes, must store the information for no more than three years, and must collect only basic contact and educational information. But in its database JAMRS allowed the information to be disseminated widely to law enforcement, intelligence and other agencies, rather than keeping it private; kept the information for five years; and aimed to collect a wide variety of private and personal information about every American high school student, including ethnicity and social security numbers.
Today's changes to the JAMRS database represent an acknowledgement by the military that they do not have carte blanche to recruit without respect for the privacy of students and their families," said Corey Stoughton, NYCLU Staff Attorney and lead counsel in the case. "It's refreshing to see the Defense Department recognize that it is not above the law."
Hope Reichbach contacted the NYCLU when she was a student at Hunter College High School in Manhattan and became a plaintiff in the lawsuit after trying and failing to have her name removed from the lists and databases that have subjected her to repeated phone calls from military recruiters. "I got involved in this lawsuit because I just wanted the military to leave me and other students alone," Reichbach said. "I feel like we sent that message, and the DoD stood up and listened."
Despite undertaking these major changes, the DoD refuses to stop collecting information about students' race and ethnicity. The NYCLU believes the DoD's resistance stems from the military's on-going efforts to target racial and ethnic minorities, especially from African-American and Latino communities, for aggressive recruitment campaigns.
The NYCLU filed the case, Hanson et al. v. Rumsfeld et al., in the Southern District of New York on April 24, 2006. Named defendants included Donald Rumsfeld, in his official capacity as United States Secretary of Defense, and other DoD personnel. NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn was co-counsel on the case.
- The DoD has published an announcement of the changes to the database in a privacy notice in the Federal Register. To download that notice in PDF form, click here; to see it on the website of the Federal Register, click here (PDF format).
- To download a sample opt-out letter that a student may use to remove herself from the database, click here (Word format).
- To read an FAQ for students and families about the JAMRS database, click here.
- To download a template for a letter to the editor of your local paper about the JAMRS database, click here.