School’s fingerprint system may breach laws

A CO Limerick secondary school may be forced to drop a hi-tech fingerprint student monitoring system for breaching data protection legislation.

All 420 students at the mixed Salesian College in Pallaskenry have been fingerprinted for the new biometric system used for daily enrolment.

A fingerprint from each hand is registered on two scanners when students arrive in the morning and return after lunch.

The system cuts out an hour’s work every day compiling rolls.

However, the Data Protection Commission (DPC) said the project may contravene data protection legislation. Commissioner Billy Hawkes has contacted the school for information abut the new enrolment procedures.

A spokesman for the commissioner said they have brought to the attention of the school to guidelines set out for any school on monitoring systems.

While the guidelines do not specifically refer to finger printing, the spokesman said: “They set out the principles that have to be applied to render the collection of personal data legitimate.”

The guidelines state that the introduction of a biometric system has to get the approval of parents and each student, before being introduced.

School principal, Paddy O’Neill informed parents of the introduction of the system by way of a news letter during the summer holidays.

A private firm was commissioned to install the system. The school has refused to say how much it cost.

The DPC spokesman said they had been in contact with the school and awaiting a response, which they expect within days.

He said it seemed that the school was not aware of certain aspects of the guidelines which pertain to the introduction of biometrics in school.

It is believed that four other schools which had planned to introduce a similar system had dropped it after consulting with the DPC.

A school which went ahead with the fingerprinting system two years ago, closed it down after being contacted by the DPC.

Mr O’Neill said the system has been working very well, cutting out five hours paper work each week and giving teaching staff immediate information on who was absent.

Parents, he said, were also alerted by text that a pupil was not in attendance.

He described the fingerprint system as being better than swipe cards which could easily be lost or passed among students.

Mr O’Neill emphasised the school did not have an absenteeism problem.


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