Oregon universities to create new student privacy policy after HigherOne
Author: Tony Rasmussen Email: Phone: 503.725.8390
Posted: April 19, 2005

The student campaign against HigherOne has prompted the Oregon University System to develop new standards of student privacy protection. Interim OUS Chancellor George Pernsteiner testified to the Senate Education and Workforce Committee, "I want to have the opportunity to bring together students, faculty, staff, community members, to try to look more comprehensively at privacy policy in the university system."

"Privacy ... is becoming an even more important issue throughout our society," said Pernsteiner, "One of the things I fear ... is identity theft and what that does to people ... who become victims of that." He added that the student-driven Senate Bill 643 was a good start, but he wants to broaden protections in the future. "I think its going to be an even bigger issue for all of us throughout the society," he said.

Privacy violations have hit the headlines several times in recent months. In February, Bank of America lost tapes containing the credit card numbers of 1.2 million federal employees. That same month, ChoicePoint reported fraudulent access of information on 145,000 people. In March, Seisint, a division of Reed Elsevier, admitted the unauthorized access of the personal records of 32,000 people.

Portland State University signed a contract with the Connecticut-based HigherOne, who provides financial services through their Texas based partner Horizon Capital Bank, that explicitly "requires" the release of student information, such as social security numbers, to the company. HigherOne's privacy policy then permits them to share this information with their partners, such as Blackboard and Diebold, as needed. At least one company, Blackboard, as a history of filing lawsuits against students.

The release of information is especially disturbing to students who have signed confidentiality agreements with the university. "Before I enrolled at Portland State, I checked out the privacy policy and I was assured that all of my information would remain private, and just two months later it was all shipped off to Connecticut," said Reverend Edward Kill at the Senate Bill 643 public hearing, "My privacy has been violated."

"The protest of HigherOne in Oregon is having an effect that will last for years," said student body President Christy Harper, "The Chancellor's commitment to privacy is very appreciated by students." Students are working with the Oregon Student Association (OSA) on future meetings with the Chancellor's office.