Identity theft protection needed immediately

By Gus Bode

Every year, 700,000 people in the U.S. fall victim to identity theft. Illinois ranks fifth in a list of the states with the highest occurrence of this kind of fraud.

The process of identity theft begins simply – by acquiring a Social Security number.

Despite the necessity to keep these numbers private – even Illinois drivers licenses no longer bear them – SIUC continues to use Social Security numbers for identification purposes from student ID cards to exams, to job applications and Intranet server logins, and has no immediate plans to stop.

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Now, students are being told their identity and livelihood must remain at risk until the University budget permits a technical support system switch, which will come no earlier than 2009.

Meanwhile, everyone from teachers, to staff, to faculty, to other students can access a student’s most important information just by finding an old test, a lost Student ID, or even glancing at an attendance sheet passed around in lecture halls. Often, the current system is so helpful to criminals as to even associate names and Social Security numbers on one document.

Anne De Luca, assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, who heads a special committee investigating the possible switch, said the University will have to allocate $5 million to $10 million to update the current system. No small amount, to be sure, but putting financial expediency before the welfare of students is a dangerous practice.

The budget crunch is a serious factor, but is not unique to SIUC. If other Illinois public universities, which also rely on state funding, have found ways to protect their students’ identities, our students should receive the same consideration.

Though the University appears to be receptive to complaints about the use of Social Security numbers as personal identification numbers, students require protection from identity theft now, not at a tentative date sometime in the future.

While we appreciate the administration’s need for randomly assigned identification numbers, immediate action would speak volumes about the dedication of the administration to students’ safety and well-being.

Currently, the only option students have is to visit the Office of Admissions and Records in have a new ID number assigned. This process takes time and would bog down the office’s normal procedures if every student on campus were to do it.

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Until Social Security numbers can be eliminated entirely as a means of identifying students, professors and instructors should take the first step by no longer using Social Security numbers on sign-in sheets for classes, and provide alternatives to associating names and Social Security numbers on exam sheets. To those professors who have already done this, we thank you for protecting us.

The University must come up with a solution to this problem. The University’s willingness to gamble with our financial futures to save money amounts to a reckless disregard for our safety and well-being. The longer we wait, the more likely it is that this misfortune will befall one of us. The University would be better off owning up to its responsibility now, rather than after a student is devastated by identity theft.

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