Older U Cards carry Social Security digits

Cards issued before Jan. 10, 2002, can be replaced for free at the U Card office.

Jeannine Aquino

Prior to 2002, students and faculty members needed only one code to access buildings and borrow books ” their Social Security number.

Although not actually engraved on the cards, U Cards issued before Jan. 10, 2002, had the cardholder’s Social Security number encoded in the magnetic strip for identification. This system has since been replaced with student ID numbers, but several University students and faculty members may still be using the previous cards.

Shih-Pau Yen, University deputy chief operating officer, said the University initially used Social Security numbers because it needed a way to identify people.

“We used the Social Security number because it was unique,” he said.

At the time, Yen said, people didn’t find anything wrong with using Social Security numbers to identify students.

According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer organization dealing with privacy concerns, “the Social Security number is the most frequently used recordkeeping number in the United States.” Believed by many businesses and government agencies to be “tailor-made” for identification, it has been used for employee records, medical records, university ID cards and in many other ways.

However, recognizing a concern for individual privacy and risk for identity theft, the University stopped using Social Security numbers as the primary identification number, according to an Office of Information Technology Web site.

“Privacy is a big issue now,” Yen said, citing the now-widespread exchange of information electronically.

Ronald Reier, a public information officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, said knowing someone’s Social Security number does not immediately ensure identity theft.

“The Social Security number is a public document,” he said. “It, in itself, is no different than a person’s telephone number. It’s a way of identifying someone.”

Reier said it is the way a person uses someone else’s information that constitutes identity theft.

“I have a business card,” he said. “For you to be in possession of my business card is not a crime, but for you to represent yourself as me using that information, that’s when a crime takes place.”

For students and faculty members with cards issued before 2002, the University offers those concerned with their privacy a free replacement card from the U Card office.

Some current University students said they are glad U Cards no longer contain Social Security numbers.

“I wouldn’t like that kind of information displayed,” Jenny Cocker, a pharmacy junior, said, “especially the fact (that) if you lose your card, someone might be able to get a hold of it.”

Genevieve Swenson, a nursing junior, said she wouldn’t like to use her U Card if it had her Social Security number on it.

“They always tell you to protect yourself because of identity theft,” she said.

Journalism sophomore Aaron Leth talked about how police officers were able to find out his name and address from his cell phone number and track him down after he reported a crime last summer.

“I can only imagine what people can get with my Social Security number.”