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ask the experts: Social security numbers ...

CampusIDNews Staff   ||   Aug 01, 2003  ||   ,

Many institutions are actively working to eliminate the use of the social security number on their campus cards. What is your position with regards to this issue? Is it of concern? How aggressively should a campus act?

Jeff Zander, Vice President, General Meters:
“The use of social security numbers is largely a privacy issue and the answers are likely to be as varied as the institutions and related politics. While some campuses still utilize social security numbers, many do not. We have heard instances where students and/or parents have asked the campus or the Director of Card Services NOT to use social security numbers due to an increased fear of identify theft and other valid privacy concerns. General Meters supports social security numbers, randomly generated id numbers, encrypted id numbers, ISO numbers as well as bank issued id/charge/credit/debit numbers. Each account is able to have 5 unique numbers. Multiple cross referenced id numbers are useful for proximity card systems (i.e., with proximity card systems, the card number is assigned by the vendor and not selected or meaningful to the campus without some type of cross reference/look up table). The benefit of multiple account numbers for each card holder is also beneficial in cases where one department (i.e., library) needs to utilize a unique id number which can then be cross referenced with a valid institution id number.”

Bruce Lane, Vice President, CBORD Group:
“We would never recommend printing a student’s SSN on the face of an ID card, due to concerns about identity theft. The use of SSN as the encoded number on the ID card’s magnetic stripe is still fairly common, although state and federal mandates are quickly convincing schools to drop the use of SSN as the ID card number. One should always consult the university’s counsel about the particular state requirements that apply to determine if it is imperative to make the switch.

Switching from SSN as the student’s personal identifier campus-wide to some other number is usually no easy task. The SSN may permeate a number of campus administrative systems, and changing that number may have implications for access to student services, at least during a transition period. Most Campus IT staff’s are already overtasked. The best time to consider switching from SSN to a “permID” or “EmplID” is when the campus is planning a significant change in one or more of their student administrative systems.

Fortunately most campus card systems do not require that SSN be the identifier printed or encoded on the card. Odyssey PCS (CBORD’s campus-wide card system) maintains a number for the record and a second number for the card’s magnetic stripe. This second number may be a derivative of the main record identifier or it may be completely unrelated such as in the case of ISO number use. This allows the campus administrative systems , if desired, to maintain the use of SSN as an internal identifier, while protecting that SSN from misuse in the event of a lost card.”

Tom Bell, VP of Industry Relations, Blackboard:
The push to remove the use of the social security number from the public view has been an issue on many campuses for years. No one wants to have this important federally issued number fall into the hands of the wrong person or group. More recently legislation has come forward mandating the elimination of the social security number from any document that can not be appropriately protected. Campuses have responded to these changes in law a variety of ways. New numbers have been developed and issued to each student once application is made for admission. Strict policies have been issued mandating the privacy of the information. Campus administrators in charge of the Transaction System have been faced with the need to interpret both the law changes and campus policy changes.

Many campuses have applied for an ISO number and generated a random number meeting American Bankers Association specifications. This is ABA encoded card works well and is a good solution for Transaction System (Card System) administrators. The random number may also work but the push to add alpha characters within the number can be a challenge in encoding the card. The bottom line is that the campus has the greatest challenge since they have to track all the different numbers that may be associated with each student (library, ISO, campus ID number, access control number and others) and point them all back to the student name and social security number in the Student Information System.

Each campus is mandated to report for financial and tax reasons on each student by the social security number each year. The social security number will not disappear from campuses. It should not be printed on the card or on any document that could become public. Whether or not it is used on the magnetic stripe seems to be a good question for campus legal interpretation which will certainly vary by state and campus. Campuses need a clear and well thought out policy and plan of action that includes legal and operational implications for each department effected by a potential change in student identification number.

Mark Reinart, Manager Marketing Systems & Development, Diebold:
This is really a policy issue that needs to be determined by the institution. From the technology standpoint, CS Gold was designed to support a wide range of card number formats simultaneously. This provides a smooth migration path for campuses away from SSN based formats. CS Gold makes the move seamless to ISO or formats of their choice.

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