Keeping our data safe and sound


By Camron Owens

Privacy laws have never been more important than they are today. As students, we trust that the University will take the precautions to secure our data.

We want to have proper guidelines in place to ensure we are informed about how our data is being used. We also don’t want people or institutions to be able to access our social media pages. Privacy laws basically affect these two areas, and in Illinois it is important students get more involved with just how secure our personal data is. The University has sensitive information like our social security numbers, home addresses and academic information on file.

The amount of personal data that the University has is somewhat frightening. I’m not implying the University has a secret agenda to use student data in an evil scheme, but accidents do happen and skilled hackers lurk in the shadows, waiting to strike. Take Auburn University, which, in April, accidentally exposed the social security numbers, physical addresses, birthdays, names and academic information of 364,012 people. Some of these people did not even attend that university. To make matters worse, this data was public from September until March.

Auburn claimed they were “unaware of any attempted or actual misuse” of the data, which still isn’t the most reassuring statement regarding such personal information. These kinds of stories are all too common.

In 2014 alone, the University of Maryland exposed the social security numbers of 300,000 students and employees, North Dakota University left roughly 300,000 students’ information vulnerable, Butler University exposed personal information of nearly 200,000 people, and our neighbors to the east at Indiana University exposed the information of 146,000 current and former students.

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Most of these data breaches were larger than the infamous Sony Pictures data breach that still sees the news coverage today.

These stories should raise concern about our own privacy and what measures our University and state are taking to protect students. Ten years ago, Illinois lawmakers passed the Personal Information Protection Act, which requires public universities like the University of Illinois to notify affected individuals when a security breach of their personal data occurs. This includes personal information like social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, state identification numbers and different account numbers.

Because Illinois was only the second state in the country to implement a law that addresses security breaches, it would appear that our state legislature cares about our privacy and security. Today, 47 states have enacted these laws. The Personal Information Protection Act is certainly a reassuring measure to students who place the trust of their data into big institutions, but there are other laws being passed that make me question our future privacy and security.

Earlier this year, the Prairie State enacted Public Act 098-0129, which despite its unimaginative name, poses a major threat to privacy. Public Act 098-0129 allows elementary and high schools to demand students turn over social media passwords when notice of the school’s right to demand access is published in a handbook, rule or policy. While seemingly implemented to crack down on cyberbullies and online threats, many believe that it can be an unnecessary invasion of privacy. As a college student, it makes me wonder if any similar laws will be enacted at the college level.

These two laws say different things about our state’s stance on online privacy and security. That’s why we, as students, need to be more involved in the debate over online security. We need to ensure that proper precautions and laws are in place so our personal information is protected and we are aware if it is compromised.

However, we don’t want to have the looming threat of Universities being able to access our personal social media accounts for reasons that may not be justified. These leaks and breaches can have serious consequences. We all understand that there are questionable practices and security discrepancies going on with our data, but the protection of our personal information should be at the forefront of the people that collect it.

Camron is a junior in LAS.

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