Apr 132005
Authors: Lila Hickey

Social Security numbers will no longer be the identification of choice at CSU, and the Associated Students of CSU are pleased. The senate voted Wednesday night to endorse a new data system that will identify students with new nine-digit codes unrelated to their Social Security numbers.

The bill also outlines ways of notifying students about the change in identification information, including links on RamWeb and the RAMPortal.

CSU is switching from its own data management system to the Banner Student and Financial Aid security system. The new program is expected to be operational by the spring of 2006. CSU is one of the last universities in the state to conform to a 2002 state mandate requiring schools to stop using Social Security numbers to identify and process students' admission information, transcripts and test scores.

"(Banner is) safeguarding me from having to use my Social Security number for admissions," said J.T. Davis, a senator for the College of Liberal Arts who co-authored ASCSU's bill in support of Banner.

Davis has reason to be nervous – he said he was one of 5,000 people whose personal information was compromised when hackers broke into California State University – Chico's databanks. Chico was one of five universities that Davis applied to – and one of at least three universities that reported personal data security breaches in the last year.

"I actually got an e-mail from them saying my name came up," Davis said.

CSU students will be issued a nine-digit identification code as soon as the system is operational at CSU. According to CSU's Aires Project web site, which details the university's plans and progress for Banner, project workers are working on plans to replace current students' ID cards and integrate their personal data into the new system.

"I know it's going to be kind of a pain that you've got to remember this nine-digit code, but I'd rather have students scratching their heads than saying, 'Oh, I just became the victim of identity theft,'" Davis said.

The switch to Banner will also update CSU's dated data management systems, said Patrick Burns, associate vice president of CSU's Academic Computing and Networking Services.

"The (current system) is held together with spit," Burns told ASCSU during a presentation to the senate April 6.

Burns explained that the systems CSU has in place were written more than 20 years ago and have been added to as needed, without an overall system development plan.

Nicholette Andrews, an assistant director for RamRide, CSU's safe ride program, endorsed the bill because she was concerned about the dangers of making Social Security numbers so easily available.

"When professors pass back papers and you have to put your Social Security number on it, anybody could take that," Andrews said. "They could take that and run away with it."

Companies that store consumers' personal information are increasingly reporting identity theft and breaches in the privacy of consumer information databanks. Information broker LexisNexis announced yesterday that personal information of more than 300,000 customers might have been stolen this year.

But corporations are not the only victims of these security breaches – hackers have discovered that many universities store similar personal data about students, prospective students, staff and faculty.

The Tufts University in Boston and the University of California have both recently reported security breaches that left students, staff and faculty vulnerable to identity theft.

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