Staff editorial: Protect students from identity theft

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country, yet GW continues to use students’ Social Security numbers for identification. This system should be considered an immediate security threat that puts more and more students at risk for identity theft.

Students worried about their identity being stolen can change their student identification number at the Registrar’s office, but the University should revamp its identification program to take this burden off individual students.

Student ID numbers are required online in class registration and housing selection, in some classes on exams and posted grades and when dealing with the University Police Department. Social Security numbers should be kept private, not displayed on a daily basis in such insecure places as on the Web or on a wall in a classroom.

Although it might be an expensive process to change the system, the risks justify the cost. New York and Illinois have already ordered colleges to discontinue the use of Social Security numbers as identification because of security concerns.

The risk was demonstrated last summer when Princeton admissions officials were caught posing as students on a Yale Web site that showed the status of student applications. At least one Princeton official used students’ Social Security numbers provided on the students’ applications. If Yale applicants had been issued an ID different than their Social Security number, Princeton officials may not have been able to pose as the applicants. At GW, students’ Social Security numbers are consistently exposed and requested – allowing someone to easily pose as any student, especially on the Web.

Teachers need to be aware that posting student ID numbers in class violates the Family Educational Right to Privacy Act because, in most instances, the student IDs are Social Security numbers, which cannot be displayed under the law.

Parents have complained to GW about this awkward system, voicing concerns about keeping their students’ identities safe. The university should find an alternate system, perhaps a random number or variant of the GWorld ID number, to put an end to this potentially dangerous system.

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