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Editorial: Governor's award glosses over CatCard SSN privacy disaster

Arizona Daily Wildcat,
January 14, 2000
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The University of Arizona owes the CatCard office a lot of thanks, but not because of any excellence in technology.

The best contribution the redesign of UA's identification cards ever made has nothing to do with the tens of thousands of dollars its various contracts earned the university.

And while UA students live with the infinite comfort of a multi-use "smart card" in their wallets, the most important gain the 1998 changeover had to offer stemmed from administrators' biggest goof in years.

In settling deals with MCI Communications Group and Saguaro Credit Union, the university released thousands of Social Security numbers illegally, and led to a surge in student privacy concern and training. Although the CatCard fiasco made "student privacy" ring in the UA community's ears, the state has recently rewarded the office for "excellence," of all things.

Gov. Jane Dee Hull's office slapped a seemingly arbitrary "Governor's Excellence Award" on the program last month, raising the eyebrows of concerned students who remember a not-so-excellent time for the CatCard.

The fact that the governor's office would give such a troubled program an award implies one of two things - Hull's award is about the equivalent of a blind man sticking a gold star on someone's forehead, or she cares more about profit and technological advance than student privacy. Either way, it whitewashes a nasty scandal and the realization that the UA must always work to protect its people.

Andrew Tubbiolo, a paranoia-driven student who first investigated the privacy leak, said the award is "indicative of how the university doesn't care about student privacy and property."

Associated Students President Cisco Aguilar called the move "kind of moronic," because of the CatCard office's troubled past.

He recognized the benefit the program has had on the UA's efficiency, but remained concerned about the privacy issue. And perhaps the lack of concern from the state is the biggest worry to be taken from the situation.

The program should be appreciated for what it has undertaken, but the governor's office, according to a Hull spokeswoman, was unaware of the privacy violation.

It was absent from the program's application for the award.

CatCard Director Liz Taylor even said the blunder is "water under the bridge," and that her office is trying to get past the incident.

Should a violation of federal privacy regulations ever be looked past?

After all, UA President Peter Likins stood and took the blame, and diverted the error with an educational campaign and a new privacy watchdog. The whole thing happened almost two years ago. Also, no damage was actually done to any student.

But that doesn't mean it should be ignored.

The university should continue to emphasize the importance and severity of such a violation, and use the CatCard scandal as a lesson in the necessity of strict privacy rules.

Instead, the office now wears a shiny badge of excellence to cover up a well-earned blemish.

This award should remind the UA community that progress in technology, efficiency and profit can still push the individual's rights to the margin of memory.

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