Petitioners pose privacy issues

Posted: Feb. 17, 2015 | Written by Lawrence Manns
Photo illustration by Valerie Osier and Luis Solis

Photo illustration by Valerie Osier and Luis Solis

Each person’s signature is unique to themselves, and as such it has become a person’s gateway to the world. This holds especially true for college students, as their signature is used for applying to a school, to buying a celebratory graduation dinner and everything in between.

Increasingly, people representing various groups with various agendas have shown up on the college campus to collect student’s signatures, whether it be to petition the government or show support for a political figure.

They may make their purpose known, but it is not known just where this sensitive information will end up.

While the nature of the activity may necessitate a signature, there are too many variables involved. These practices should not have a place on campus, at least until students are able to find out how to properly safeguard their identity.

There are a lot of uncertainties bonded with the activity of signature collecting, but one of the most striking is that of the actual collector, the one who stands on the sidewalk and asks for your signature. He may claim to represent an organization or cause, but no one can  know  for sure.

While a person may be representing somebody, the collector may be of dubious character. They may make copies for their own records or simply report that they have not collected any signatures and take the signature forms home, where the collector is free to do whatever they please with them.

There may be no indication or warning sign that anyone can do this, making it very easy for someone looking to score some personal information.

Another very real possibility is that the signature collector is not really representing anybody.

“California doesn’t license or bond signature gatherers. Many of them are from out of state and move from city to city to carry petitions. Anyone can do it, even convicted felons and forgers.” Shannan Velayas, Secretary of State spokesperson, said.

While a person that has committed a felony has his right to collect signatures revoked, he may do so if he has completed his sentence, as California does not permanently ban felons from voting like other states do. Anyone with malicious intent can claim that they are out representing an agency, and trick the rushed, distracted, or otherwise unsuspecting students into giving out information.

While the threat is not always clear, it’s not impossible to defend against. In California, it is the law that petitions can only ask for the full name, home address, and signature.

Any form that asks for things like social security number, or anything else, should not be answered, and the collector should be reported to the police. Also, it is wise to take note of the demeanor and conviction of the collector. Ask questions.

If he doesn’t seem very knowledgeable about the purpose behind the petition, or seems to be lacking in motivation to be out doing his job, then be wary.

Once, on the way to class, I was approached by a collector with a petition to overturn the ban on plastic bags in Los Angeles. When I asked him questions about the ban, he replied with “I don’t know man, I’m really only doing this so I can get money. Each signature is more for me.”

Some campuses have realized that signature collection isn’t very secure, and have taken steps to help make sure their students is safe. Glendale Community College has tight restrictions on who can collect signatures, have designated places on campus for the practice, and set times for a collector to be on campus.

Additionally, the collector must obtain a permit from the school, and the collection must be arranged at least two weeks prior to the time collectors can come on campus. Collectors must be behind tables at all times and are not allowed to approach students.

If these rules are broken, then the collector is treated as a trespasser, and will be detained by campus police.

The ability to have petitions and show support for a cause is one of the many freedoms we have in this country. It is, however, not without its risks. On campus, or anywhere else, caution, sense, and good judgment are key to safeguarding the most valuable asset that one can have: identity.