Privacy protection is on the minds of everyone today, when growing reports of credit card fraud and identity theft are becoming a common occurrence. These 21st century thieves are stealing something more valuable than any material possessions – personal information. On March 3, The Hatchet retrieved confidential student files carelessly tossed into unsecured dumpsters behind Francis Scott Key Hall. These trashed files originating from the Elliott School of International Affairs should never end up in an open and unprotected environment. They must be shredded instead.
Any student, either still enrolled or long since departed from GW, would be deeply troubled to learn private information that could be used for identity theft was just lying out in the open. Unfortunately, this is exactly the type of information that was found in the files, which were placed in a public area with a helpful “confidential trash” sign to save criminals’ time.
Examples: one student had all his contact information, in addition to his social security number, on a petition he filled out to gain credit for a course already completed. Another student has his poor grades out for display. Included in The Hatchet’s findings were photocopies of personal checks, standardized test scores and permanent home addresses. Not to mention personal essays in applications and various notes giving embarrassing reasons for requesting exceptions from school.
In any major city like D.C., there are many people of low moral character out to break the law. The ESIA needs to do more than just think about purchasing shredders. Entrusting the responsibility to housekeeping is fine, but the documents should be shredded instead of throwing them out in their whole form. Keeping the documents whole just increases the risk of the confidential files being misused.
Luckily, this information fell into The Hatchet’s benign hands. Stealing the identity of someone or using some of the information for blackmail is something everyone must act to prevent. The University should take this as a wake-up call to come up with better procedures for protecting confidential files and enforce them. Although shredding these documents would be time consuming, many would agree destroying these confidential files is well worth the time and effort.