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Removing Social Security Numbers from daily use at RIT

By Dave Pecora

Dave Pecora
Dave Pecora is associate director, Information and Technology Services.

We live in an age of numbers and codes. User IDs, passwords, PINs, and e-mail addresses are just a few of the codes that have become indispensable to modern life. The purpose of each one is essentially for a computerized system to recognize you, understand who you are, and determine what you are allowed to do.

As computerization exploded in the 1970s and ’80s, Social Security numbers (SSN) became extremely useful as a means of identifying people. But with the volume of transactions in the modern age that are available online, SSN information has become the No.1 target for identity thieves.

The number of attempts to steal Social Security numbers has grown at an alarming rate. This has resulted in a rash of new legislation. As of January, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 35 states have either passed or have pending legislation related to the theft or compromise of Social Security numbers or other personal information.
Much of this legislation regulates what organizations must do to inform individuals when security breaches occur.

As a result, limiting the use of Social Security numbers has become a center point in the battle against identity theft.

RIT Responds:
Changing the University ID

A new number – the RIT University ID – will replace the Social Security Number as the most commonly used unique identifying number for transactions on campus. Use of the new ID will completely replace use of the SSN in many cases.

The project is massive – over 900 programs supported by the division of Information and Technology Services (ITS) alone need to be modified. “We are committed to doing what’s necessary to protect the sensitive information we keep in the core systems of the university,” says Dave Hostetter, associate CIO of ITS and the project champion. “It’s a matter of trust. Expectations are high, and we intend to live up to them.”

One of the most affected departments is the Registrar’s Office, which has responsibility for the maintenance of course schedules, grades, and ID card information.

“This will require a great deal of effort and planning,” says Joe Loffredo, registrar. “We will need to print a new ID card for every student, faculty and staff member at RIT. But it absolutely needs to be done to protect people’s personal information.”

The project has been identified as “the top ITS initiative until it is completed,” according to Diane Barbour, chief information officer for RIT. “While many of our projects are very important to the university,” she stated “this is such a massive effort, and we felt the need to make it clear that this is our number one priority.”

The new University ID number will be a nine-digit number, but will not match any valid SSN – present or future. ID numbers number will be randomly generated – they will not be sequential – for security purposes.

A campus-wide project – named the Student ID Replacement Project or “SIRP” – has been formed to manage the effort. (Replacement ID numbers for faculty and staff are also included in the project’s scope, despite the name). A task force made up of representatives from all of the colleges and divisions of RIT has been planning since September.

A New University ID Card

The new card will be different in several ways. The most obvious change is in orientation – the new card will be portrait, not landscape. This will make it easier to hang it from a lanyard, a practice which has grown at the university as a means of identification. The University ID will still be stored in a barcode and in a magnetic stripe on the card as it is today. The barcode, however, will be displayed on the back instead of the front.

Since everyone will be getting a new ID number, everyone must get a new ID card. University IDs and cards for faculty and staff will be generated and pre-printed by the Registrar’s Office. University IDs and cards will also be generated and pre-printed for any RIT student who registers for classes in the summer quarter. These cards will be available for pickup at the Registrar’s Office starting on May 1.

Alumni who have been issued RIT ID cards for use of campus facilities also can obtain new cards at the Registrar’s Office starting May 1.

Housing Operations will be distributing new ID cards for returning fall students in residence halls, apartments and the RIT Inn, starting Aug. 15. All other students returning for fall quarter will pick up their new ID cards from the Registrar’s Office starting Aug. 1.

The new RIT ID cards will become active sometime during the week immediately following the May 2006 commencement ceremony. Information forums about the transition are being held this spring.

For more information on the project,
visit the Web site: www.rit.edu/its/initiatives/sirp.