Editor’s Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
On October 3, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Department of Defense reached a settlement in federal court challenging the DoD’s leaking of military and personal information belonging to service members and veterans. The settlement established protocols to identify and prohibit third-party data brokers who sell data for unauthorized commercial marketing purposes.
While this settlement acknowledges long-standing grievances, it does not adequately address the very real damages experienced by the men and women who wear or have worn the uniform of this great country.
The origins of the lawsuit began when VVA discovered that the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) website allowed details pertaining to the military service of millions of veterans and service members to be easily accessible on the Internet to anybody at all, for any purpose. Unfortunately, because DoD refused to act to protect this personal and private military information, VVA had no choice but to ask the courts to intervene.
As a Vietnam War Veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, I’m pleased that our government has finally recognized its duty to veterans and service members to safeguard their privacy and to ensure that it is not leaving sensitive information unsecured.
For years, for-profit data brokers have engaged in unscrupulous business practices by accessing the database without authority and selling veterans’ credentials. This unauthorized use of the SCRA website is illegal and a clear violation of the Privacy Act of 1974.
As a result of the settlement, third-party data brokers will be prohibited from accessing the SCRA website for any purpose other than those permitted by SCRA. In other words, third parties will no longer be able to use the website to verify military or veteran identity against the database and sell the data to third parties.
It’s a positive development that the government has finally cracked down on these offending companies and they will face severe penalties for improper access moving forward. But we cannot ignore the fact that there has been a systemic and ongoing violation of veterans and service members’ privacy rights for years and shouldn’t there be greater consequences for past actions?
I completely agree with John Rowan, the National President of VVA who stated in response to the final settlement that “…monetizing our service members by sharing their personal information for profit, while compromising their identities is despicable and damaging to our national defense.”
Veterans are not a commodity to be bought and sold. Is it right to let those who have exploited them go unpunished? Certainly this violation of privacy rights requires harsh penalties. It is not enough for criminal penalties for violations in the future.
We must be fair and just when addressing the past as well.
Paul W. Bucha is a Distinguished Graduate of West Point, a Vietnam War Veteran, Medal of Honor recipient, graduate of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and former President of the Medal of Honor Society. His professional credentials include running the international operations of EDS, a pioneer data processing and technology firm founded by H. Ross Perot.