Social Security Number Should Be Kept Private

By Sohrab Ghassemi

I suggest that the Georgetown University administration use an arbitrarily invented number as our student identification number instead of our Social Security number.

The use of our Social Security number as our student identification number raises enormously pressing privacy concerns. The Social Security number should remain a very private matter, given out in only the most appropriate and needed situations. The university’s use of this number as our student ID number is inappropriate and misguided.

As a result of this usage, our Social Security number appears on our student ID cards (when it should only appear on one card, our Social Security card). The Social Security number does not even appear on a United States passport; we are given a separate passport number. Yet the Social Security number appears on the Georgetown student ID card. Moreover, we are often asked to write our “student identification number” on exam blue books and papers.

This number, though, is actually our Social Security number. Yates uses our Social Security number to admit us into their facilities. Munch Money transactions, on and off campus, use this number. Our Georgetown student telephone bills use our Social Security number as our account number. AT&T does not use my mother’s Social Security number as her account number. We are asked to type in our Social Security number on an insecure line over the Internet in order to get to Student Access. And the list goes on.

All this usage of our Social Security number as our student ID number increases the chance that this very private number goes into the domain of public knowledge. This is dangerous. Second and third parties can access an abundance of information about a student by knowing their Social Security number. They can also fraudulently use your identity.

A student ID number should be just that, in its own right. Our Social Security number should not double as our student ID number. A university such as UCLA, with 35,000 plus students, uses arbitrary and newly invented numbers for their students’ identification numbers. The Social Security number remains in the private domain and only is used under very special and exceptional circumstances. Georgetown is a small school; it can handle inventing numbers specifically to act as the student ID numbers. The fact that it is easier to use the Social Security number is no excuse. In fact, it ignores blatant privacy concerns. Social Security number usage is reserved for filling out federal census forms and IRS forms, not for entering a gymnasium or buying food from the campus store.

The Social Security number must not double as our student ID number. The latter number, due to its wide and open use, is very much in the public domain. The Social Security number should not be. Each student should be given a Georgetown student identification number for use in university-related matters. The Social Security number must not be this number. When you want to buy Domino’s and use Munch Money, and they ask for your student ID number, this is more or less harmless. But when that number is your Social Security number, as it is now, that knowledge in the broader public domain is dangerous.

In fact, it is in Georgetown University’s interest to stop using our Social Security number as our student ID number. They are setting themselves up for a series of lawsuits regarding the negligent and careless use of students’ Social Security numbers. It is, after all, only a matter of time before this precious number, as a result of university policy, falls into the wrong hands. This especially is a problem in this information age with the growing Internet-ization of the United States.

Sohrab Ghassemi is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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