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Recruitment Tool Targeted
The program also includes information from Selective Service registrations. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, the Pentagon also is entitled to entire public high school student lists, which it says are kept separately.
One of the goals of the opposition coalition, organizers said, is to make high school and college students aware of how much private data they routinely give away.
"When young people are asked to provide personal information in hopes of receiving a scholarship or an academic honor, they may be giving up their right to privacy with nothing being given to them in return," said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, one of the groups spearheading the effort.
Other coalition members range from national groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Republican Liberty Caucus to community organizations such as the Fairfax County Privacy Council and the Sisters of Saint Francis in Sylvania, Ohio.
Larry Ponemon is a privacy expert who heads the Ponemon Institute, which studies the ethical handling of personal data. He said a variety of online services that help students apply for colleges, loans, scholarships or other academic services are collecting large stores of private information that are frequently being bought and sold.
"What the student doesn't really understand is that a lot of this rich data is going to be used by companies for the rest of their lives," Ponemon said.
Pentagon contract documents show that Mullen is purchasing high school and college "master files" from data broker American Student List LLC for $443,000, as part of a $2.5 million subcontract to create and maintain the consolidated database, as well as a list of those who opted out.
Other costs in the one-year subcontract include five employees to purchase and manage the data and provide reports and recruiting leads to the services, at a cost to the Pentagon of roughly $194,000 per employee, and $16,500 for "toll-free" calls.
"The costs associated with toll-free calls include a $25 per week file transfer fee as well as an 88-cents-per-minute toll charge with an average call lasting about three minutes," according to a Pentagon spokeswoman.
A Pentagon briefing paper on the program said that in 2005, Mullen would have access to a database from American Student List of up to 20 million young working adults ages 18 to 37 and will be looking into purchasing "medical" lists.
The spokeswoman said the services have not used either list to date.