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Bill banning SSN use gains legislative momentum

By Brett Erickson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 30, 1999
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PHOENIX - Welcome to college, 123-45-6789.

Something akin to that line appeared on a Boulder, Colo., high school student's acceptance letter to Arizona State University earlier this year.

A computer glitch printed the applicant's Social Security number instead of his name on the form letter.

The mistake has since been corrected, but represents a trend of universities and colleges misusing students' private statistical information.

Last spring, the University of Arizona released students' Social Security numbers to Saguaro Credit Union and MCI Telecommunications Corp. while trying to implement the new CatCard identification system.

Sam Leyvas, executive director of the Arizona Students' Association, said state legislation is necessary to eliminate potential violations of a student's right to privacy.

He showed a House committee last week the need for such protection by holding up a long list of Social Security numbers he printed from university web pages on the Internet.

"The very fact that I was able to pull this information should be a shock to everybody," Leyvas said.

Following the mishaps, the state Legislature will vote on one of two proposals this month to prohibit universities from assigning Social Security numbers as students' identification numbers.

House bill 2154 and Senate bill 1399 have each been approved by their respective members and could come up for a final vote any time in the next two weeks.

A Senate endorsed bill, such as SB 1399, needs the approval of the House before being submitted to Gov. Jane Hull, and likewise for House bills.

Most UA officials said they support the idea of using alternate identification numbers.

UA lobbyist Greg Fahey said the university supports both SB 1399 and HB 2154, "as long as they have the ability to transmit material on paper."

The UA is now required to use a student's Social Security number for federal tax credit programs, financial aid and student employment programs.

"It's very close, if not right at, to where the UA wants (it)," Fahey said.

The issue, however, will be which of the two bills offers the most support for students while not completely eliminating university access to Social Security numbers.

Sen. David Petersen, R-Mesa, the Senate bill's sponsor, said he has been told by officials familiar to the bill that his version has "cleaner language" compared to the House bill.

Petersen's bill, approved last week by the House Government Reform Committee on a 3-0 vote, would also extend the protection to UA staff and faculty.

Petersen's bill may be held up because of the proposed addition of protections for community college students.

The current version of the bill includes both, but at least one lawmaker indicated she would only support the bill if community colleges were not affected by the bill.

"(Protecting students) is definitely a concern, but I also want to make sure the community colleges will be excluded from this," said Rep. Leah Landrum, D-Phoenix.

Landrum's concerns came after an official representing Arizona's community colleges claimed that they often need to use Social Security numbers when students transfer to four-year universities.

Petersen, however, said he would not make such an exemption because community college students deserve "no less protection" than university students.

Anthony Seese-Bieda, a director of public affairs for the Arizona Board of Regents, said the board was initially opposed to both bills. He said state intervention in the problem is unnecessary.

"Is this a protection issue that requires legislative involvement?" Seese-Bieda asked.

Seese-Bieda said the Board supports the House committee's decision to include staff and faculty in the legislation. The board, however, would prefer the deadline for the elimination of Social Security numbers pushed back from June 30, 2001, he said.