The Usefulness of Fact-Checking

In the news today, it was revealed that the University of Maryland accidentally printed Social Security Numbers of students on a mailing about on-campus parking, possibly exposing about 20,000 students to identity theft. The affected students were advised to put fraud alerts on their credit files, and generously offered some free credit protection, which is all well and good.

I was about to go all postal on UMCP for using SSNs as student ID numbers, but a quick look at the FAQ revealed that was not the case; a separate University ID number (explained here) is generally used. The SSNs got on the mailing accidentally. Why the application that generated the mailing labels for this particular mailing even had access to a table that contained students’ SSNs is a very good question, and a question that needs to be asked of the IT staff. But that particular error is not as jaw-droppingly stupid as using SSNs as student ID numbers, which was a common practice at universities about 10-15 years ago. Just a little bit of research beyond what I read in an AP wire story kept me from jumping to a completely wrong conclusion.

But if I did not blog about this incident, I likely would not have looked further into what was going on, and I would have continued to assume that Maryland was still using SSNs as student ID’s (they did when my wife did some graduate work there in the late ‘90s, but they apparently stopped the practice around 2005). Sometimes it’s easy to jump to conclusions about what you read, especially when you have a small amount of inside information about the subject at hand. Because of this, taking the time to fact check before going on a rant is a good thing. Even if it’s not a very bloggy thing to do.


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