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SSN privacy bill becomes new state law

By Brett Erickson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
June 9, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona Gov. Jane Hull signed a bill into law this May that will stop Arizona universities from automatically using students' Social Security numbers for identification purposes.

Arizona Summer Wildcat

Arizona Gov. Jane Hull has joined the Legislature to stop the state's three universities from automatically using students' Social Security numbers for identification purposes.

The legislation -which begins with incoming students in 2002 - is the result of several compromises reached by University of Arizona officials, student leaders and state lawmakers. The new version of the bill extends privacy protections to faculty and staff, a move widely supported by campus administrators.

"This administration has been committed to getting off the use of Social Security numbers for a while now," said Greg Fahey, the UA's state lobbyist.

The UA currently assigns identification numbers identical to SSNs. But university officials also notify students of the option to request a unique, nine-digit number.

The new legislation switches that process, allowing students the option to request that their Social Security numbers be used as their identification.

The measure was temporarily stalled in late April after the bill's sponsor, Sen. David Petersen, R-Mesa, refused to agree with changes made by House of Representatives members.

To work out their differences, Petersen met with five other lawmakers and produced the draft that Hull approved May 17.

A timeline for implementing the change delayed earlier approval of the bill.

Originally, Petersen and the Arizona Students' Association had called for a 2001 deadline, but the date was eventually pushed back after officials from the three state universities said they needed more time to update their computers.

"We were adamant that there be a deadline, otherwise the universities would have continued to drag their feet," said ASA President Sam Leyvas.

Leyvas said he remains concerned that current university students will still have to provide their school with Social Security numbers, leaving them at risk of credit card fraud and identity theft.

The major step universities can take to prevent these crimes is being "proactive in informing students and faculty that they have the option of requesting a different number," Leyvas said.

Extending the privacy protection to the state's community college students was also important to ASA, the student-run organization that approached Petersen with the idea for the legislation.

However, community college officials testified before the Legislature that such a mandate would severely hamper their ability to deal with transfer students.

Petersen removed the community college protection clause from the legislation to ensure it would pass.

Jaime Molera, who serves as Hull's policy adviser for educational issues, said the governor became a proponent of the bill after listening to the concerns voiced by several student groups.

"The governor was impressed with the issues they brought forth, and confidentiality is important to her," Molera said.

The Arizona Board of Regents is another supporter of the new law, although they initially opposed the legislation because faculty and staff were not protected.

Regents President Judy Gignac also called the one year extension vital, saying universities would have been scrambling to make the change by 2001.