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Regents reverse stance on SSNs

By Brett Erickson and Anthony C. Braza
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 16, 1999
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TEMPE - The movement to ban state universities from using students' Social Security numbers gained an important ally yesterday when the Arizona Board of Regents aligned behind the proposal.

"The board has no problem in supporting the bill because no one wants their Social Security number stolen," said Regent President Judy Gignac.

The Regents' reversal comes on the heels of two key amendments by state legislators.

Regents cited an amendment on a Senate bill that delays implementation by one year - until June 30, 2002 - as helping to sway the Board's opinion. Regents also plan to fill a perceived gap in the proposals by eventually ending the use of faculty and staff Social Security numbers.

"What we insisted they include was the faculty and staff," Gignac said.

University of Arizona President Peter Likins said the university has been working to ensure that student Social Security numbers remain private.

"With or without the legislation, we will accomplish the objectives of the legislation," he said. "The timetable is now the issue."

The UA has $280,900 earmarked for a secure computer server and software for unique identification numbers, according to the spring update to the Operating Budget Summary.

"(We are) earmarking some dollars that will be the resources we will use for the Social Security number issue," said UA Chief Budget officer Dick Roberts.

He added that the switch to random identifiers is in its preliminary stages, and "no one is assigned to it."

Despite the UA's steps, two separate but similar proposals regarding university use of Social Security numbers are being debated at the state Capitol. The Senate's bill, 1399, would force universities to assign identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers.

House bill 2154, however, would require universities to adopt a more aggressive approach to make students aware of the option to request a random number.

Some members of the board questioned whether assigning random identification "pin" numbers would really curb identity theft, which the FBI calls the fastest growing category of crime in the country.

Likins, however, said the consequences linked with the theft of a random nine-digit number are drastically lower than a Social Security number.

"(It) wouldn't have the same type of long-term, lifelong consequences that Social Security numbers have," he said.

Regents President Judy Gignac echoed Likins' comments, saying she thinks protecting Social Security numbers is paramount.

Instead of the Legislature forcing universities to adopt a student-friendly system, however, Gignac said she would prefer to handle the issue without state intervention.

"It is my understanding that all universities allow students to say that they don't want to use their Social Security number," Gignac said. "Being mandated means there is no choice."