UTPD reveals it keeps tabs on information collected by UT ID usage

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While revelations on the federal government’s surveillance of U.S. citizens’ phone records and emails continue to become public, UT has also disclosed its own forms of on-campus data collection using UT IDs.

Whenever students, staff and faculty swipe their UT IDs to enter a building on campus, the University of Texas Police Department can find out where they have been, without a warrant. Information gathered through card swipes is stored in a data log immediately accessible to UTPD for 30 days and then removed, UTPD spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said.

Although the National Security Agency has been the subject of criticism for its surveillance, local officials say such monitoring is not uncommon and does not break the law. UT officials say its information on UT IDs is only accessed on a limited basis for specific purposes.

“Access control records are turned over to UTPD if they are needed to investigate criminal activity in specific areas,” Weldon said. “The security system card access records are never used for employee management or student time and attendance purposes.” 

UT IDs are required for access to “controlled areas,” such as student living areas in Jester Dormitory and Kinsolving Dormitory, as well as research laboratories on campus. All new buildings opened in the last five years, including the Belo Center for New Media and the Liberal Arts Building, have been installed with card access points.  

Cynthia Posey, UTPD spokesperson, could not provide a number of times the data has been accessed, but said UTPD has asked for these records on “numerous” occasions. UTPD also advises Information Technology Services, the department that distributes IDs and manages technology on campus, on where to install new card access points. 

The Austin Police Department uses a similar technique with city employees at controlled municipal buildings, said Samantha Park, spokeswoman for the city of Austin.

Park said city employee access card data could be obtained by APD without a warrant, but that a formal process requiring approval of building managers was necessary for access. Park said most inquiries from APD on card data are related to criminal investigations. 

“If APD makes a request, Building Services tries to work with them as best as possible,” Park said. “If there is ever a question about the request, the best course of action is determined internally between Building Services, APD and management.”

UTPD’s access to the proximity access data does not require a warrant because of current legal precedent, said Robert Chesney, associate dean of the school of law.

“It may be the case that not a lot [of] students know this is going on, but we’re talking about the information that’s being gathered because you were using UT-issued IDs to access UT property with permission from UT,” Chesney said.

Chesney said he thought it was a practical measure to use the information for administrative purposes and crime prevention because of the high value of technology and goods stored on campus facilities. 

“Recent events have all made us stop and think about what the rules should be,” Chesney said. “That’s a question we should all ask. But I don’t think it’s constitutionally required, or that there’s anything illegal or untoward about UT handling information in this way.”