Saturday, June 25, 2005

We Make Databases But We Won't Use Them

We Make Databases But We Won't Use Them
By: S. Rowan Wolf, Ph.D.
Uncommon Thought Journal
June 25, 2005

Well, the news is out that the Department of Defense is gathering data on high school students. Excuse me, they are contracting with a private company (BeNow) to gather data on high school students. There is a concern that this massive effort is a precursor to reinstituting draft, but the Pentagon denies any such claims.

Just something to think about. How would you feel if you were a Reservist on your third your of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the Pentagon kept denying they were doing anything to find someone to replace you so you could come home? The only thing that seems more up in the air than when the US will leave Iraq, is how they are going to provide for troop rotation and getting the "part time" military back to their lives. Given all the Defense Department's spending on high tech warfare (robots and turning individual personnel into extensions of that technology), perhaps robots will replace them. The "Army of One" is taking on a whole new meaning. But I digress.

Back to the new efforts to collect data for "recruiting" purposes.

What exactly is the DoD doing? Well reading the article from American Forces information Service has some interesting twists. The article extensively quotes David S. C. Chu (undersecretary for personnel and readiness. According to Chu, the United States does not have an "all volunteer" military - it is an "all recruited force." A fine distinction perhaps, but one that legitimates data collection. One assumes they are simply doing what any big business now does - targeting their market.

So why the contract with BeNow? After all, under SEC. 9528. Armed Forces Recruiter Access to Students and Student Recruiting Information of the "No Child Left Behind" Act, schools receiving federal funds must turn over the Names, addresses, and phone numbers of students on demand by the military. Isn't that enough information? According to Chu, it is not. The data collected under the No Child Left Behind provisions is "decentralized" and of use only to "local recruiters" and is not a centralized list of all possible recruits.

However, the data being collected for the BeNow contract goes well beyond the data collected through No Child. It includes "The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying" according to the Washington Post article. Why the additional information just for "recruiting?" Grade point averages and classes being taken? Are the planning on focusing their recruiting on the highest G.P.A. or the lowest? Are they looking for those who are failing? This seems entirely possible, as earlier reports have note that the military is lowering their standards in an effort to meet recruiting targets. The Guardian, referring to a Wall Street Journal article states:

"The Wall Street Journal quoted a battalion commander as saying: "It is the guys on weight control ... school no-shows, drug users, etc, who eat up my time and cause my hair to grey prematurely ... Often they have more than one of these issues simultaneously."

The philosophy seems to be that those most likely to join the U.S. military are those who face the largest challenges and lack of opportunity in the broader society. There are anecdotal reports that no matter what a potential recruit tells a recruiter about issues that would normally get them barred from service, that recruiters will sign them up. So will the new data be used to target those with the biggest challenges? It seems likely. This approach (and it is not a particularly new approach) tends to stack the force with those who have the fewest resources - the poor and people of color. This also perpetuates what we see in terms of public response to the war in Iraq and beyond. The troops are "someone else's children;" meaning that the middle and above classes have no family to lose in the international escapades of Empire.

So now the DoD is collecting even more data, and more personal data, on students so they can "centralize" recruiting. One has to ask, "to what end." Since recruiting takes place at the local level, and those data needs are apparently already being met, what happens differently under the new plan? That is totally unclear to me, but it is clear that the military (and the government) has an increasing appetite for individual's private information. Contracting with private corporations for data collection services is not restricted to recruiting. The current example is one more contract.

We keep hearing how difficult it is to recruit during war time, and that is what is driving the aggressive (and some argue illegal) recruiting efforts of the US military. However, perhaps it is that people don't feel that the war is worth fighting. While it is possible that the "patriotism" of the young has been subverted in the era of the individual, it recruiting problems during war time is a relatively new problem. Certainly, recruiting was not a problem in the immediate aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001. Recruiters just had to sit in the office and volunteers came streaming in. Now however, they are not streaming in, they are hiding out. This indicates to me that the young are willing to risk their lives in a good cause, they just no longer see the war policies as a good cause.

The scope of the new data collection points to a track you down approach - not a targeted "marketing" approach. The local versus centralized data is a ploy (in my opinion), since there is no reason why the data currently supplied by schools can't be centralized. In fact, I would be amazed if is not already centralized.

That means the current move serves a larger purpose, we are just not sure what, exactly, that purpose is.

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