According to the Federal Trade Commission, 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the past five years. Identity theft occurs when someone uses personal information such as one’s name, Social Security number or credit card number without permission to commit fraud or other crimes. The University’s use of Social Security numbers for student identification increasingly puts GW students at risk for such an offense.
The Hatchet’s discovery of housing documents containing student Social Security numbers in an unsecured New Hall storage room (“University reacts to New Hall security breach,” Oct. 27, p. 1) begs administration action to protect student security – almost 500 students had access to these sensitive files.
The Student Association is taking the correct steps to advocate on behalf of students on this issue. By the end of the week the SA will send a broadcast e-mail over the SA listerv explaining the identification policy of the University and providing a link to the forms needed to request a randomly generated number. Through these forms students can request to have their student ID changed, but the administration has failed to adequately make students aware of this option.
While students currently have the option to change their assigned number, the administration should follow the national trend and discontinue the use of Social Security numbers for identification beyond what is absolutely necessary. Students continue to put their Social Security number on test booklets in class, to log into the Banner Web system (where they register for classes, access transcripts and make housing choices) and on any other University forms where a student ID is required. Over four years there are hundreds of documents floating around with each student’s Social Security number, and of those documents there are most likely some that will fall through the cracks and end up in the wrong place, as in the New Hall incident.
Although it might be an expensive process to change the system away from the use of Social Security numbers, as Northern Illinois University’s database changed cost about $8 million, the risks justify the costs – student security should be a top priority.