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Wired News
Monday, November 2, 1998
2:20pm PST

Students Wonder: How Smart?

Students at the University of Toronto fear that a new smartcard program might be threatening their privacy.

by Marlene Blanshay, blanshay@total.net

TORONTO -- A coalition of University of Toronto students is leading an open forum on smartcard technology Monday to discuss concerns that a new campus card program may be compromising their privacy.

The T-card pilot project began last year when the university distributed 45,000 smartcards to students, staff, and faculty. Like many students across the US, where such programs are common, the 39,000 Toronto volunteers were sold on the convenience of having all their ID combined on a single piece of plastic.

"[Students] don't have to carry around so many cards", said University of Toronto registrar Karel Swift, the chairwoman of the school's T-card implementation committee.

Not everybody feels that way. The university says it has been open about the new program, but some students feel that the school has not been up front with them about what is being done with information on purchases made with the card.

"We just want some answers", said James Hoch of the Identity Technology Working Group, the coalition of students and faculty that will host Monday's forum.

"We feel we are being used as a captive market."

Andrew Clement, a professor of information studies at the University of Toronto, said the university has an obligation to be more open about the project.

"We don't think they are up to some nefarious scheme", said Clement, moderator of Monday's forum. "But they are implementing the new technology, which is going to be used in a wider setting, and should be setting a good example."

Nevertheless, Swift said that students have not been left out of the process.

"We consulted with student reps when the project was under consideration", Swift said. She added that the university has a privacy policy and that their records are protected by a rigorous access to information policy.

Some still worry that the university, in the interest of efficiency, is introducing a new technology without looking at the potential uses or misuses.

"There is a lot of concern among the students about collection of information for purposes they are not aware of", says Jack Dimond, the university's commissioner for freedom of information and privacy. "My concern is that as smartcards are used more, there is a procedure of review of information it collects. When you begin using the new applications, you have to look at them closely."

One freedom and privacy advocate encourages students to boycott the cards.

"[Students] should just say, 'I refuse to use this card for any cash purchases until you tell me where this info is going and what you're doing with it,'" said David Jones, president of Electronic Frontier Canada.


Copyright © 1998 by Wired Digital Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.