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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Students can now shield their SSN

Students now have the option of removing their Social Security numbers from transcripts, the University registrar announced.

The Student Association Senate passed a resolution in February asking the University to give students and alumni the opportunity to eliminate their SSN’s from transcripts after the lobbying of third-year law student Aaron Titus.

“It’s very encouraging,” said Titus, who is the information privacy director of Liberty Coalition. “It is a real issue that affects students and it will help reduce the risk of identity theft.”

University Registrar Elizabeth Amundson said GW decided not to eliminate SSNs from all transcripts, asserting it should be a student’s choice to remove the number.

“There are, at present, differing opinions about the wisdom of entirely eliminating the SSN from all transcripts,” Amundson said. “There is a balance that must be struck between striving to protect students and alumni from any potential identity theft and being able to conduct business in a society that unfortunately relies on the SSN in many areas.”

The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, whose membership includes GW, does not recommend the removal of SSNs. Barmak Nassirian, associate director for AACRAO, said the removal of the SSN on transcripts can cause organizational and identification confusion for recipients of transcripts.

“The SSN is as close as possible to uniquely identifying someone,” Nassirian.

Amundson said the SSN removal might cause headaches for students and alumni.

“For some institutions receiving a GW transcript without an SSN, matching that transcript with an existing record may be more complicated,” Amundson said. “I do believe that there may be some situations in which a GW student or alum will encounter difficulty.”

Titus said institutions could use a person’s full name, date of birth, address and other personal information to still correctly identify a person.

“The SSN is about the worst choice,” said Titus, who hosts a podcast on privacy. “It is a broken system.”

He surveyed the “U.S. News and World Report’s Top 127 Colleges & Universities” to find out how many of GW’s peer institutions use SSNs on transcripts. Only 26 percent of the universities surveyed required the number on the document and 11 percent made SSNs optional, according to Titus’ study.

The University phased out Social Security numbers from the library and GWeb portal systems in Fall 2006. The University still uses the numbers in the Banner System for financial aid, payroll and tax-reporting purposes, in addition to transcripts and other official documents. Other databases and documents use the GWid number as the primary identifier.

“We have many students who share the same name, therefore it is critical that some unique identifier be included on every transcript produced,” Amundson said. “When the SSN was used as the student ID, it was the only identifier we had available.”

Nassirian said there is other personal information on transcripts that can lead to identity theft.

“Transcripts are loaded with private info,” Nassirian said. “The fact is many other data elements are private and would facilitate identity theft.”

Titus said stopping identity theft from transcripts is impossible without SSN removal.

He said, “there is no silver bullet to preventing identity theft except living on a mountain in Tibet.”

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