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What the UA doesn't want you to know

By Rachel Alexander
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 22, 1998
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editor@wildcat.arizona.edu


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Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Rachel Alexander


The UA broke several laws earlier this year when it released students' social security numbers and personal information to Saguaro Credit Union, MCI, the Alumni Association and CyberMark LLC. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, states that personally identifiable information - which includes social security numbers - may not be released without written consent.

Thirteen exceptions exist to this rule, and the UA's release did not fall within any of these.

The UA claimed that CyberMark qualifies within the exclusion for an agency acting for the school. However, it has never been shown how CyberMark comes under the definition of "school officials" with "legitimate educational interests" that work "within" the institution as listed in the exception.

The UA is allowed by law to enter into contracts with Saguaro Credit Union, MCI and CyberMark, but it is not allowed by law to divulge students' personal information to those companies.

In addition, it was not necessary for the UA to put students' social security numbers on the CatCard. Federal statute 20 USC 1091 states that the university can only require Social Security numbers if the student is receiving financial aid, and even then it is not necessary to use them as the student's identification number.

Yet, if you receive financial aid, and request not to use your social security number as your student identification number, the registrar will tell you that 20 USC 1091 requires it. This is false. Statute 20 USC 1091 states that a student receiving financial aid shall provide their social security number, NOT that their social security number should be used as their student identification number.

Even if you don't care initially about the concept of freely throwing your social security number around, consider the potential ramifications. Like a credit card, once a social security number gets into the wrong hands, it can cause a huge amount of problems for you.

A social security number is a great way to apply for credit cards, driver licenses, and free things. The more people, whether they're customer service representatives at MCI, or paper pushers at some check-cashing company, handling your social security number, the more likely it will be fraudulently used.

I worked at MCI a year ago, and discovered that they couldn't care less about the confidentiality of social security numbers; the employees use theirs to log on to their computers every day.

Considering the caliber of some of the employees hired there - felons, crooks, gun-toting gangsters who regularly get into fights inside the building - do you really want your social security number released to them without your permission?

Having been a victim, twice, of someone getting a hold of my credit information, I know how easily it can be done.

The final insult is that the MCI rate that comes with the CatCard is a rip-off compared to MCI's collegiate card rates.

It appears that the UA is getting a kickback from the surplus amount. The UA profits from illegally releasing your information to MCI.

Although President Likins has accepted full responsibility for these illegal actions, working with MCI and Saguaro Credit Union to remove students' personal information from their records, the damage has already been done.

Furthermore, nothing else has been done. Not one member of the ASUA has showed up at any of the CatCard Advisory Committee meetings since April.

Why haven't MCI and Saguaro Credit Union been unlinked from the CatCard? Perhaps it is because the UA has entered into huge contracts with these companies, and doesn't want to give up the potential profits it may reap.

The proper response from the UA should to be to cancel the contracts with MCI, Saguaro Credit Union and CyberMark. There is a clause in those contracts that provides for the cancellation of the contracts by either party, provided 30 days written notice is given.

These contracts are costing students money. The contract with CyberMark was not just a simple student identification card contract, it specifically included "extend[ing] access to off-campus services, such as retail, banking and telecommunications services."

Canceling this contract will save money that would have been spent on developing contracts for these non-educational services.

Why is the UA engaging in setting up non-educational services for students? Why are our tax and tuition dollars funding an educational institution to set up service accounts that we did not choose (I don't use Saguaro or MCI, and especially wouldn't use their rip-off rates).

In return for giving Saguaro information about students, the UA is given banking information about the students.

This is another gross privacy violation that has yet to be addressed.

No doubt the university is hoping that students, staff and faculty will have forgotten about last year's debacle over the summer. But given the University's continued legal violations and disregard for our privacy, we should continue to put pressure on administrators to make substantive changes.

Rachel Alexander is a third-year law student. She would like to thank Terrence Bressi, Travis Klein and others for the information that went into this article. Her column, Common Sense, appears on alternate Tuesdays and she can be reached at Rachel.Alexander@wildcat.arizona.edu.