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CatCard back on track

By Anthony C. Braza
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 24, 1998
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Tanith L. Balaban
Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA business freshman Lisa Alter puts money on her CatCard using one of the new Cash-to-Card machines. The CatCard Advisory Committee will meet Friday to discuss procedural changes in using the CatCard and the card's new role on the UA campus.

After an illegal release of Social Security numbers delayed expansion of services tied to the UA CatCard, its creators have taken steps to address privacy concerns while moving ahead with original plans.

In its most recent move, the CatCard Advisory Committee will give students, staff and faculty the option of having their university status printed on the front of their cards at no additional cost.

Jean Johnson, UA associate controller in the Bursar's Office, said that option, which began on a trial basis, will be made permanent this week.

According to its original timeline, the University of Arizona CatCard Advisory Committee had planned to look into services such as an administrative voice-messaging system and a way to electronically transfer money from a bank account or credit card to the CatCard this month.

But the investigative process was set back in the spring, Johnson said.

"We had hoped to be further along with some of these projects," she said. "Some of these projects take a year plus to develop."

Phase one of the CatCard program included a conversion from Social Security numbers to arbitrary 16-digit card identifiers on the front of university ID cards and installation of the infrastructure needed to support the card's functions.

The second phase was the changeover to campus-wide use of the new CatCard, but the next phase was held up by fallout from the UA's illegal release of student and employee Social Security numbers to MCI Telecommunications Corp. and Saguaro Credit Union.

But not every new CatCard option was delayed. The office introduced the Cash-to-Card program this summer, which allows cardholders to deposit money onto their SmartChip, an electronic "purse" embedded in the card.

By the end of this week, 35 Cash-to-Card machines will be installed throughout campus. The money stored on the chip can be used to make purchases from vending machines, copy machines and laundry machines in selected residence halls.

CatCard Director Liz Taylor said the Cash-to-Card option, which only requires a chip reader and electricity to operate, offers the university much more flexibility than the magnetic strip. The magnetic strip must be used with machines that are linked to the CatCard database.

"With the chip reader, they can move them (the machines) to the places where they are needed," she said. "It is now possible to put a vending machine in the middle of the Mall, if they wanted to."

Recently, the CatCard office also implemented a uniform UA badging system. Prior to the program, each department developed its own badges.

Taylor said the CatCard office took on the project because it has the equipment needed to make the badges.

The CatCard will also be used as a key starting this fall, with plans to control building access with the card, Johnson said. She said 19 departments are scheduled for conversion by UA Facilities Management this fall.

Other cardholder options include the choice of having digitized pictures and signatures removed from the CatCard's permanent database and substituting a dummy number for an actual Social Security number on request.

Taylor said requesting a replacement number does not eliminate the cardholder's Social Security number from the UA's other databases. Departments such as the Bursar's Office cannot use the CatCard's magnetic strip to automatically access the accounts of those who choose a substitute number.

"You still have the number in the SIS (Student Information System) and payroll systems, so you would have to identify yourself to those systems in a different way," she said.

The CatCard, which can also be used as a debit card with Saguaro Credit Union, may impact another program on campus, Taylor said.

Pocket Money, a system which works off the magnetic strip, is used in four locations - the UA Associated Students Bookstore, Gallagher Theatre, UMart and the University Photo Center, although virtually all Pocket Money purchases are made at the bookstore.

Taylor said the bookstore will compare Pocket Money sales with debit card sales to determine if both systems are still needed. The CatCard Advisory Committee also plans to investigate off-campus use of the Cash-to-Card option this fall, she said.


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