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Wednesday June 6, 2001

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Arizona Summer Wildcat Staff Editorial

UA, state officials showed common sense in getting rid of Social Security numbers

At a university that often falls victim to the bureaucracy of higher education systems, the UA student body has come to expect that common sense will rarely be used when policies are made or changed.

In the past, UA students were identified not by their names, but by a number - their social security number.

However, the UA proved a couple of years ago that they were unable to keep that information private. Students and faculty were outraged when Saguaro Credit Union, MCI, and other companies were sold UA student information illegally. Despite the collective outrage, UA officials were willing to do little to ensure it wouldn't happen again.

That changed when the state senate passed a resolution that banned the practice of using social security numbers as student information codes, forcing the administration to change the policy or be in violation of the law.

UA officials announced this week that they have begun implementation of a new system of student identification that should be ready by next July.

Under current university policy, each student is obligated to use their Social Security number as their student identification number unless they specify otherwise and change it through the administration office. The new system, which will replace students' current numbers with a random nine-digit code, will be inconvenient and intrusive to many students.

Many students see this as just another hassle, but few understand the gravity of the Social Security number - it's a gateway to any information kept on a person, such as credit reports, police records, and bank accounts.

Like the medicine we all took as kids that tasted bad but made us feel better, the law is protecting our interests.

By changing the numbers, UA officials will eliminate the possibility that student information will fall in the wrong hands again.

In February, a Swedish web surfer came across nearly 3,000 names and Social Security numbers of University of Indiana students while looking for a space to download MP3's that he found while searching Napster. While there is no indication that the names and numbers were used improperly, it served as a wakeup call to those who believe that university files - and any computer files, for that matter - are completely secure.

The computer world isn't a safe place, to say the least. Few files exist that can't be broken into by a hacker with the right tools and knowledge. By removing social security numbers from the UA's Student Link, officials are reverting to what should have been their primary goal from the very beginning - looking out for the best interests of the students.