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Becta gives schools biometric data guidance

In line with data protection laws

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The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) has published guidance for schools on how to implement biometrics in line with data protection laws.

The guidance (pdf), published on 23 July by the government's schools ICT agency, advises schools to involve parents in any decision to introduce biometric or fingerprint technology. At the same time it insists schools have the freedom to run their own affairs.

Drawn up with support from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the guidance stresses that head teachers and governing bodies should be clear and open with all parents and pupils about the use of biometric systems.

This could involve: explaining what biometric technology is; how it will be used; what is involved; what data will be stored; why it is required; how it will be secured; and how long it will be retained.

Schools are also advised to recognise some parents' or pupils' concerns over the introduction of biometric technology and offer alternative systems, such as smartcards, to access the same services if they opt out.

Becta chief executive Stephen Crowne underlined that schools must make their own decisions over the systems they employ but need to take account of the sensitivities surrounding the technology.

He said: "Schools must ensure that they engage fully with parents and pupils and consider the provision of alternative systems if there are strong objections to the use of biometric technology."

Biometric systems, says the guidance, are designed to validate a pupil's identity and should not hold any other data. They can help to speed up lunch queues, remove the need for children to take money into schools, and remove the stigma for pupils who claim free school meals. Biometric attendance systems can also be used to save time in taking registers and preventing unauthorised access to school premises.

Under the Data Protection Act 1998, schools can only use biometric information for the express purpose for which it was collected. They must also process data fairly and lawfully to ensure that all pupils, or their parents if they are not able to understand, know what personal information is held on record and how it will be used.

"Schools are well used to handling sensitive information like attendance registers, behaviour records, and home addresses," said schools minister Jim Knight.

"But we are absolutely clear that they have to comply with data protection laws. That means that this data can only be used for its stated purpose; cannot be shared with third parties beyond this stated purpose; and it must be destroyed when a pupil leaves their school."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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