A recent Federal Trade Commission report recently announced that individuals between 18-29 years of age living in the District of Columbia are the most at-risk group for identity theft in the United States – placing GW students squarely in the highest possible risk category. This report helps revive the issue of GW’s controversial use of Social Security numbers for identification purposes. In response to student outcry, administration officials are creating a committee to explore alternatives to using SSN. While we applaud the creation of the committee, the University must ensure this does not turn into another bureaucratic exercise but instead translates into a realistic plan to make a transition away from the use of the SSN system.
While administration officials contend the transition would be costly, it represents an important investment to protect students. The University’s use of Social Security numbers for identification puts a student’s number on hundreds of documents and one mistake or misplacement could endanger student privacy. Last year, The Hatchet discovered an unsecured closet in New Hall with documents containing student Social Security numbers. Had anyone else found it, the consequences could have been serious.
There are several steps the University can take to mitigate the threat. First, a message should be sent over GW Info Mail encouraging students to request a new ID number and giving them instructions on how to do it. This should be done in conjunction with administration officials phasing out SSN use with each subsequent incoming class. Doing so will not require a messy migration for current student records, while securing current and future students.
Identity theft is a serious issue the University must address immediately. It cannot continue hiding behind phantom cost estimates obstructing forward progress on the elimination of Social Security number use for identification. Doing so only exposes students to unnecessary risk.