Privacy, security concerns? When colleges require your cellphone number to register for classes [Update2]


Check out this bureaucratic bullshit. My wonderful school, NYU, now requires students surrender their cellphone number in order to register for Fall classes. It’s all in the name of safety, of course, as are most attacks on liberty. Think of the children, we’re only protecting you, etc.

I’ve included the full text of the e-mail, if you’re so inclined.

Here we go!

The office of the registrar is requiring you to do this before you registrar for classes.
You will not be allowed to register for Fall classes if you do not do this! Please go into ALBERT and add your cell phone and emergency contact info before your registration time.

for more info please refer to this link…

Cell Phone & Emergency Contact Requirements

Recent tragic events that took place at other schools around the country have created the need for heightened awareness on campus. The safety of our students, faculty, and staff is a top priority for NYU. One of the most important tools in an emergency – whether an individual emergency or a large-scale condition which may have an impact on the whole campus – is swift communications.

It is for these reasons that NYU is now REQUIRING that all students provide both a cell phone number AND an emergency contact number (including an option for an international emergency phone number) BEFORE Fall registration begins on April 14th, 2008! During Fall registration on Albert, we will be checking to see if you have provided both numbers. If either is missing, you will not be allowed to register for the Fall term.

We urge you to take the time now to go online using Albert and record your cell phone number and emergency contact number. These numbers will be stored in the SIS database and used appropriately.

Is this a common practice around the country, requiring students to give up even more personal information for inclusion on some unknown database? Who has access to the numbers? Are there any security procedures in place to prevent them from getting in the wrong hands? I just asked the school for a comment, so once they send it, if they send it, I’ll add it.

Update: Lo! and there was a response, from some dude named Donald A. Starr:

The Office of the Registrar would be able to answer your question better than I can. I know that the university wants the number to create an emergency text message system. I also know that the number can’t be given out by any university employee or used to create an student directory. That information is protected by the FERPA act.

The Registrar is very serious about requiring cell phone numbers and contact info. If you do not provide the info, you WILL NOT be allowed to register. The journalism department has not control over this. If you get blocked from registration because you refused to submit you info, we cannot override the block and you will have to call the registrar.

So while it looks like the guy I contacted was merely a middle man, the school is DEAD SERIOUS about not letting you register if you don’t give them your phone number. I’ll be jumping through the bureaucracy to get an answer, that’s for damn sure. I really want to know what happens if you tell them you don’t have a cellphone.

Update 2: Someone else higher on the food chain got back to me. They referred me to this page, which still doesn’t say who, exactly, has access to the numbers or what security measures are in place.

But I may have a loophole for concerned students: just say you don’t have a cellphone. This is what they told me:

If you currently do not have a cell phone, then please let me know and I can update your record to reflect that information.

Seems to me that you can simply claim not to have a cellphone and they’ll let you slide. Why, then, do they put in bold type that giving your cellphone number is required? Is it so hard to put an asterisk in there so students without cellphones don’t freak out?