Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rumsfeld sued over Pentagon's recruiting database

Rumsfeld sued over Pentagon's recruiting database
By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Six New York teen-agers sued Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld on Monday, alleging the U.S. Department of Defense broke the law by keeping an extensive database on potential recruits.

The suit in federal court in Manhattan follows a series of allegations last year of misconduct by recruiters, who have experienced difficulty meeting targets because of the war in Iraq.

The Pentagon last year acknowledged it had created a database of 12 million Americans, full of personal data such as grades and Social Security numbers, to help find potential military recruits.

The Pentagon has defended the practice as critical to the success of the all-volunteer U.S. military, and said it was sensitive to privacy concerns.

But the suit alleges the Pentagon improperly collected data on people as young as 16 and kept it beyond a three-year limit, and said that the law does not allow for keeping records on race, ethnicity, gender or social security numbers.

"On the one hand Congress has afforded broad latitude to collect information but on the other hand the Department of Defense has completely flouted those limits," said Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit on behalf of the six plaintiffs.

The Pentagon referred the case to a spokeswoman who was not immediately available for comment.

Although the database was created in 2003, before the U.S. military started missing recruiting targets, the Pentagon first revealed the program in the federal register last year just has it was hit by other recruiting scandals.

The plaintiffs -- all 16- and 17-year-old students from the New York area -- were approached by military recruiters even after demanding that their information be stricken from the database, Lieberman said.

They want the court to declare the database illegal, force the military to stop keeping improper records and pay for their lawyers.

The suit names Rumsfeld; David Chu, the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, and Matt Boehmer, the Pentagon's director of advertising and market research studies.

"There's nothing sinister," Chu said when responding to criticism of the program last year.