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Dormitory Card Readers Still a Bad Idea

I am writing to question what I believe to be a serious misappropriation of MIT's limited resources. I am referring to the installation of card readers on dorm entrances. I believe the investment of material, labor, and ongoing support that will be required in this project could be better utilized elsewhere. Specifically, I believe those same readers slated to be installed on dorms should instead be installed on as many academic buildings as possible. Let me elaborate.

I think the card readers are a solution in search of a problem. Whatever difficulties the dorms may be having, I don't think it is the proper problem for this solution. If lost or stolen keys are the problem at the dorms, wouldn't rekeying the entrance locks a little more often greatly reduce the problem? If the problem is the copying of entrance keys, how long does whoever made the decision to "give" us card readers think it will take before cards will be copied? Remember, this is MIT. Once magnetic cards begin being copied, the only way to discover which card numbers are being used to gain access is some scheme involving logging of entrances and perhaps exits. And that can't be done since we've already been assured that the readers won't be used for that purpose.

Seriously, do dorms really have a problem with security? I know that, regardless of the hour, an intruder in my dorm would quickly be noticed. There simply isn't that much hallway or so many people that someone who doesn't belong here won't be recognized as an outsider. On the other hand, there are many miles of hallway within the main academic buildings on campus, too many to expect the Campus Police to be able to patrol it all. Even in the middle of the day if one ventures below the first or above the third floors, these halls are quite empty. Odds are, if you see anybody, you are not going to know whether or not they are a member of the MIT community.

MIT is a very nocturnal community and we need access to facilities at all hours. In fact, as anyone who has ever found themselves in Killian Court after the doors are locked and had to walk several blocks down Memorial Drive in the dark to get back inside can tell you, in some areas we need even greater access than we now have. Obviously, leaving all the doors wide open so the entire wonderful, world around campus can let themselves in is not the solution. Neither, do I believe, is the current practice of locking the perimeter doors while leaving the interior open. It is only a hundred feet or so from the locked door on one end of Building 66 to the open door on the other; hardly a deterrent to someone looking to enter our buildings without proper cause. It is an inconvenience (or in the case of Killian Court, perhaps a hazard to safety) to members of MIT who are out and about after the doors are locked.

However, one need look no farther than the recurring vandalism in Walker Memorial or have more than one run-in with a drunk or other non-MIT person in the halls of the Institute late at night to be convinced that more security is needed. Fortunately, security and accessibility need not be mutually exclusive. Card readers allow both. But, it is in high traffic areas where many people need access, and where the need exists to be able to deal with lost or invalid "keys" without having to involve every person who has access, that card readers are ideally suited. It is these areas the cost is justified, not in areas such as dorms where the number of access doors is limited and the number of key holders to those doors is reasonable.

How many card readers is it going to take to cover the entrance doors of all the dorms, anyway? It will take six just for East Campus. I for one would rather keep the keyed locks on the outside entrance doors (I'm going to need my same entrance key to get through the locked door onto my floor) and see those six readers used on Building 66 and Walker. With two dozen more readers I figure enough doors around the main campus could be covered to allow adequate accessibility while still allowing for a great deal more security after dark. I don't know any residents who are pleased about having readers added to the dorm doors. Why are resources being spend to add these things to dorms where they are neither needed nor wanted? Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to install them where there is a growing need and they would be greeted with enthusiasm? How about it, anyone else willing to "donate" the readers slated for their dorm to a building on campus?

Charles C. Hardy '95