RMIT students oppose smart card

Issue 

RMIT students oppose smart card

By Lisa Farrance

MELBOURNE — Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) is intending to collate information on student spending habits and movements. The university is proposing to introduce magnetic student identity cards with the eventual aim of updating them to "smart cards".

The new ID card will be used in vending machines connected to a centralised computer. Students would deposit money in a personal account via RMIT Union in order to use vending machines; this would "facilitate sales analysis, by both product type and cardholder type", according to the administration's written proposal.

The cards would provide access to computer rooms and other facilities, allowing the university to monitor and record student use of those facilities.

They would bear a computerised photo, also stored on the centralised computer system. "In addition to permitting images to be viewed on PCs, mainframe storage would allow the printing of images alongside names on class-lists, examination supervisors' lists, prize giving ceremonies and other documents". RMIT has indicated it wants to keep these records indefinitely, even after a student has graduated.

Access to the student's own record would be through a "transaction centre similar in general style to a flexi teller, or using touch screens with a PIN keypad attached". This would have the benefit to the university of saving on the "labour of Faculty Student Administration staff", i.e. cutting staff numbers.

According to the university's briefing paper, "it's intended to pursue financial sponsorship of student cards in order to facilitate early introduction". Rumour has it that the Commonwealth Bank will have a stake. Also, "cardholder deposits create a capital 'bank' which can be used to earn interest (providing funds for running or developing the system)". In other words, the university and the RMIT Union will be using the interest gained from students' money to run the university.

The potential for abuse of such a system is high. A card which records student movement and purchasing patterns is a gross violation of privacy. Students at RMIT will be fighting the introduction of this system; we have no intention of being at the cutting edge of Big Brother technology.
[Lisa Farrance is the student union coordinator for RMIT higher education city campus.]