Temple Times Online Edition
    OCTOBER 21, 2004
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Simple steps to safeguard privacy

According to the Federal Trade Commission, almost 10 million Americans were the victims of some form of identity theft within the past year. The average losses to victims ranged from $160 to $10,600. Over 25 percent of these crimes can be directly linked to the loss or misuse of victims’ personal information by a third party.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that sensitive documents containing student names, addresses, grades and Social Security numbers had been found in a West Chester University trash bin.

This incident was quickly followed by a San Louis Obispo Tribune report that a laptop computer hard drive containing the names and Social Security numbers of some 13,000 California State University students was missing and presumed stolen.

The following week brought news that a student had illegally broken into a Southern Illinois University database and downloaded the names, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers and passport information of more than 500 foreign students.

I want to assure you that Temple takes very seriously its obligation to safeguard the privacy of our students and employees. We are doing everything possible to comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws. Last year, we developed the Temple University Computer and Network Security Policy. And now, we are taking aggressive, prudent measures to develop and improve University computer systems that are designed to discourage the illegal, fraudulent use of personal information.

The theft or fraudulent use of Social Security numbers is the most common method criminals use to steal a person’s identity. When combined with a person’s name, a Social Security number can enable a thief to create false bank accounts, credit cards, driver’s licenses and even birth certificates.

The University has initiated a major project that will completely eliminate the use of the Social Security number as the primary identifier in all University computer systems. A University-wide project team has been formed and work has already begun. We expect the project to be completed and implemented before the fall semester of 2005.

In the meantime, I urge you to exercise caution when handling or processing private information, whether yours or others’. Do not keep this information on computer hard drives, unless absolutely necessary. Laptop computers are especially vulnerable to theft; do not leave them unattended. Computer reports containing sensitive information must not be left unattended on desktops or in plain view in public areas. Printed or written information must be properly stored, and shredded when no longer needed.

Faculty, staff and students must all work together to safeguard our privacy. You can do your part by following these guidelines.

The presidential policy on the use of Social Security numbers can be found at http://policies.temple.edu/getdoc.asp?policy_no=04.75.11. The vice president for computer and information services’ policy can be found at http://policies.temple.edu/getdoc.asp?policy_no=04.75.12.

- By Timothy C. O’Rourke
Vice President for Computing and Information Services