A recent incident involving a physics professor placing student names, Social Security numbers and grades on an insecure Web site once again serves as a wake-up call to the potentially serious problem of identity theft.
University administrators repeatedly point to the exorbitant cost of overhauling the system as a prohibitive factor in change. While officials frequently cite the $8 million it cost Northern Illinois University to overhaul its system, it is reasonable to assume that any immediate and complete overhaul would not make much financial sense for GW. That being said, there are many steps that the University should take to make a change using preexisting institutions.
First, students and parents should be made aware of the ability to change their student ID numbers by filling out a form in the registrar’s office. While the Student Association sent out an e-mail to its listserv about this issue, having the administration send out a broadcast e-mail would reinforce the message. This e-mail should be coupled with the creation of a method by which students can request and make changes online. Incoming students should also be advised to fill out a form during Colonial Inauguration.
Second, the University should explore the use of the barcode on the back of the GWorld card as a potential alternative to Social Security numbers. The Aladin system, accessible through the Gelman Library Web site, already offers this alternative as a method to log into the system.
All of these steps must be taken in conjunction with an overall plan to completely phase out the use of Social Security numbers completely over a specific time period. As long as there exists the potential for one professor to err by putting these numbers on an insecure Web site, or for a residence hall closet to be left unlocked, students will never be fully safe.