In April, 2019, Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia became one of the first schools in the United States to unveil a mobile ID program on campus. The mobile identification cards allow students, faculty, and staff with Apple devices to use their phones to gain access to buildings, buy food or items from the book store, or print documents.
Implementing the technology required the school to install new digital readers around campus, but has been a largely welcome development among the community. The university is the latest to test Mobile ID on campus, and the technology may have safety implications for students, teachers, and staff.
Marshall University is one of just 10 schools across the country - including the University of Alabama, Duke University, and University of Oklahoma - to test this new technology on campus. Dr. Edward Aractingi, Chief Operating Officer at Marshall University, emphasized how the transition to mobile technology increased convenience in an interview with WV News. “The convenience of having university IDs on iPhone and Apple Watch and the advanced security Apple Wallet provides are significant benefits for improving students’ campus life,” he said. “Our team worked diligently to bring it to the Marshall campus and make it available in as many places as possible.”
Allowing students to access campus resources with a Mobile ID may boost convenience and accessibility, but it has an undeniable impact on student safety as well. Student ID cards are one of the most effective and prevalent physical security methods on college campuses. The tap-in system exists primarily to manage security for major buildings and residence halls, and make sure intruders are not able to enter campus facilities. Changing the pre-existing system of physical key cards inevitably impacts security, but this may not be a bad thing. Student ID cards are a critical and near-universal tool, but in the current system, stolen or lost cards can lead to break-ins, property damage or loss, and identity theft.
How Would Mobile IDs Improve Campus Safety?
One of the biggest risks in a campus ID system is the potential for students to lose or have their cards stolen. Most college and university campuses deal regularly with misplaced IDs, and will have a protocol in place to discontinue the card and print a new one for the student. However, stolen cards or wallets are a more difficult risk to manage for campus safety teams, and these crimes are becoming more prevalent.
John Ojeisekhoba, campus security chief at Biola University in California, told Inside Higher-Ed that stolen wallets are a growing trend on college and university campuses. Thieves target students for credit cards and cash, but criminals are likely to take government or student IDs with the intention of committing identity theft as well. Along with the rising incidents of identity theft, a stolen wallet allows the thief to gain swipe-in access to more areas on campus where there are valuables to steal, posing a threat to both student and campus property.
In 2017, Consumer Reports found incidents of identity theft on campus to have risen by 20%, showing that college or university students may be particularly vulnerable to these crimes. Ojeisekhoba explained why wallets have become a hot target for thieves. “From a student’s single wallet, there are financial gains - if there’s money or a card in the wallet, if there’s someone’s ID, that’s icing on the cake for identity thief,” he told Inside Higher-Ed. “Bad guys also know students keep their student ID card in their wallets. They can come back to the campus, access more areas and steal more stuff.”
Moving onto a mobile ID platform can prevent incidents of identity-theft in addition to break-ins, but the transition can also save financial resources in the long run. Anytime a student ID is permanently lost, the campus safety team must go through the appropriate protocol to discontinue the current ID and print a new one. This process can require additional effort, and the bureaucracy required for both students and campus workers may even discourage community members from seeking an immediate replacement.
In addition to preventing physical property loss or destruction by criminals who steal or find a lost ID, the app can also be used to prevent stolen financial resources. The mobile ID will prevent students from taking a loss of any funds they’ve loaded onto their ID card, should it be stolen. However, if student information is loaded onto the ID card system, it's important that students take the proper measures to protect their passwords and cybersecurity. Best practices for keeping information online secure, such as only accessing critical financial information on secure networks and using strong passwords, can be made part of orientation programming.
How Technology Improves Mobile Communications
A mobile ID app is not the only way college and university safety teams can leverage technology to improve safety on campus. Generation Z is more likely than any generation before to keep a mobile phone on-hand, and therefore students from this demographic will likely take advantage of safety tools and resources offered via a mobile phone. A campus safety app can be a powerful tool for protecting student security across campus.
The app allows the user to identify a virtual escort and set a timer when traveling between buildings. If they do not arrive at the destination within the allotted time, their contact will be notified and campus safety can respond. If a student is traveling across campus and needs to reach campus safety or local law enforcement directly, the app is also equipped with an emergency call button to reach these teams immediately and speed up emergency response.
Students are clearly looking for easier methods to access resources, and a campus safety app can provide this service as well. A content-portal provides access to emergency procedures, travel documents, health and wellness center contact information, and any other critical information a student may need. Students, faculty, and staff, are clearly looking for mobile convenience on campus, and a campus safety app can further bolster a users safety net while on campus.
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