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Blog » Biometrics Law 1st September 2013: Is Your School Lawful?

Biometrics Law 1st September 2013: Is Your School Lawful?

Monday 9th September 2013. UPDATED: Saturday 14th September 2013

Biometric data collected from students in the UK typically include fingerprint data, though it can extend to eye scans and facial shape.

Schools already using biometric may be unaware that they are breaking a law brought into force from 1st September 2013: The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Schools may wish to consider alternative technologies to avoid legal some issues.

The Act makes it clear that written permission is needed from at least one parent in order to use their child's biometric data. However, if the other parent refuses, then this trumps the permission granting parent. Additionally, students must understand that they have the right to refuse use of their biometric data. Again, this trumps parental wishes. If permission is not granted, that there MUST be a reasonable alternative in place as to not disadvantage the student.

If your school is continuing to process biometric data without having got written permission, it is breaking the law. To be lawful, the school should immediately cease use of biometric data until permission is granted.

To put the minds of parents at ease, it is well worth informing them:

  • The extent to which the data is used (and don't use it for anything other than declared)
  • That the data will be stored securely (and make sure it is)
  • That it is in no way connected to any police databases (this can be a common concern) - it is simply used within school for a specific purpose for the time your child is at school

Biometric data can have many advantages, for example:

Cashless Canteen: Money can't be stolen or lost by students.

Library Systems: Speeds up the issuing of books or other resources such as laptops.

Attendance: Speeds up registering students for classes.

Remember that similar benefits can be derived from RFID (radio frequency identification) tags that could be attached to a key ring or school bag. The tag is simply used in place of biometric data. These can additionally be used to track student movement and are arguably more 'big brother' in nature. Then again, how many of us have a mobile phone with GPS turned on all day?! Another alternative is using magnetic swipe cards.

Transparency is the key. Make sure students and parents know exactly how the data will be processed and provide them with an opt-out clause.

Remember that all schools are subject to The Data Protection Act, which is also worth considering when introducing anything concerning data.

Further information is available from