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Institute Assembles Commitee To Discuss MIT Card Concerns

By Shawdee Eshghi
staff reporter

Since its inception last year, the MIT Card has been the basis for debate over issues concerning the convenience a single-card system offers, and the privacy risks it entails.

In response, the Institute recently formed the MITCard Steering Committee to deal with issues and concerns surrounding the growing use of the card, said Senior Vice-President William R. Dickson '56.

Security and use are among the current policy issues facing the committee. Some concern has been raised that using the card for access to and from buildings and parking lots could allow a person to be tracked, Dickson said.

Rather than devise an agenda and create issues, the committee will discuss and act upon the issues as they arise, Dickson said.

The committee will be composed of one graduate and one undergraduate student, a faculty member, representatives from the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs and other offices, and a representative from Information Systems, Dickson said. Some selections for the committee have already been made; others will be finalized this week.

The two student representatives are being chosen through the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council. Both the UA and GSC have made recommendations for the student representatives to Dickson, he said.

The faculty member also has yet to be named, but a faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is preferred, Dickson said.

Action on privacy the next step

The formation of a committee comes as the Institute's most recent attempt to sort out security and privacy issues.

To this end, MIT identification numbers were reassigned last year using random numbers instead of the original system of social security numbers. Because the card has such a wide range of uses, having social security numbers so easily accessible would be dangerous if the card was ever stolen or lost, said Andr Dehon G, an EECS student who has researched issues of card security.

The primary function of the cards is for picture identification; they are therefore required on a daily basis for a number of situations both on and off campus. The IDs are used to gain access to dorm rooms and receive reduced fares and special discounts at Lecture Series Committee events and a variety of stores and restaurants in Boston.

This year several new services have been added to the card, including library borrowing privileges and use in laundry machines in some dormitories.

"The scope of the operating system is sufficiently large and pervasive that a poorly engineered solution leaves too much open for abuse," Dehon said. Cards that contain information about dorm access and financial accounts should be regarded with more seriousness, he said.