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Introduction

This non-statutory guidance from the Welsh Government is intended to explain the legal duties schools and colleges have if they use ‘automated biometric recognition systems’. There are no circumstances in which a school or college can lawfully process a learner’s biometric data, without having notified each parent of a child and received the necessary consent.

Expiry/review date

This advice will be kept under review and updated as necessary.

What legislation does this advice relate to?

Who is this advice for?

This advice is aimed at proprietors, governing bodies, headteachers and principals of all schools (including independent schools and all kinds of maintained schools) and colleges. It will also be of use to school and college staff, parents, people other than a child’s natural parents who have parental responsibility (such as guardians) and learners.

Key points:

  • schools and colleges that use biometric recognition systems must treat the data collected with appropriate care and must comply with the data protection principles set out in the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR), implemented by the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018), and the additional requirements in sections 26 to 28 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012
  • schools and colleges must ensure that all the parents of a child are notified and the written consent of at least one parent is gained before a learner’s biometric data is taken and processed for the purposes of an automated biometric recognition system. This applies to all learners in schools and colleges under the age of 18
  • schools and colleges must not process the biometric data of a learner who objects or refuses to participate in the processing of their biometric data, or where a parent has objected or no parent has consented in writing to the processing
  • schools and colleges must provide reasonable alternative means of accessing services for those learners who will not be using an automated biometric recognition system

Biometric data

What is biometric data?

Biometric data is personal information about an individual’s physical or behavioural characteristics that can be used to identify that person; this can include their fingerprints, facial shape, retina and iris patterns, and hand measurements.

Biometric data is a special category data whenever it is processed “for the purpose of uniquely identifying a natural person”. This means that biometric data will be special category data in the vast majority of cases. If schools or colleges use biometrics to learn something about an individual, authenticate their identity, control their access, make a decision about them, or treat them differently in any way, then the schools or colleges will need to comply with Chapter 2, Article 9 of the UK GDPR.

The Information Commissioner considers all biometric information to be personal information under the DPA 2018; this means that it must be obtained, used and stored in accordance with that Act (see DPA 2018 below).

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 includes provision which relates to the use of this data in schools and colleges (see The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 below).

What is an automated biometric recognition system?

An ‘automated biometric recognition system’ uses technology which measures an individual’s physical or behavioural characteristics by means of equipment operating automatically (i.e. electronically). Information from the individual is automatically compared with biometric information stored in the system in order to recognise or identify the individual.

Biometric systems currently used in schools and colleges are based on recognition technology, such as those listed above as ‘biometric data’. Biometric systems usually store mathematical templates that allow physical characteristics to be recognised rather than images of the characteristics themselves; these templates are also biometric data. These systems can be used by schools and colleges for a number of purposes, for example: automated attendance and registration, meal payments and for borrowing books from libraries.

We recognise that the implementation of biometric systems in schools and colleges is a sensitive issue. However, decisions on whether to introduce such technology are matters for individual schools and colleges.

Where schools or colleges choose to install electronic registration systems, they are required to comply with the principles of the DPA 2018 and the UK GDPR, in relation to all personal data collected and held by them. This would include the use of biometric data as part of any management system within the school or college.

What does processing data mean?

‘Processing’ of biometric information includes obtaining, recording or holding the data, or carrying out any operation or set of operations on the data; including disclosing  it, deleting it, organising it or altering it, please refer to section 1(3) of the DPA 2018.

An automated biometric recognition system processes data when:

  • recording learners’ biometric data, for example, via a fingerprint scanner
  • storing data relating to learners’ fingerprints on a database system
  • using the data as part of an electronic process which compares and matches biometric information in order to recognise learners

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is an independent body with responsibility for upholding information rights, and can offer further advice on the management of records and the handling of requests for information.

More information on these topics is also available via the associated resources section below.

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

Notification and parental consent

Under the law, schools and colleges must notify all parents, including birth parents and those with parental responsibility for a child, of learners under the age of 18 where they intend to obtain and subsequently use their child’s biometric information as part of an automated biometric recognition system. As long as the child does not object, and no parent objects in writing, the written consent of only one parent will be required.

Schools and colleges will not need to notify a particular parent or seek their consent if the school or college is satisfied that:

  • the parent cannot be found; for example, where the whereabouts or identity of the parent is not known
  • the parent lacks the capacity, as defined in the Mental Capacity Act 2005, to object or to consent to the processing of the child’s biometric information; for example, where the parent has a mental impairment
  • where the welfare of the child requires that the parent is not contacted; for example, where a child has been separated from an abusive parent who is not to be informed of the child’s whereabouts
  • where it is otherwise not reasonably practicable for the parent’s consent to be obtained

Where neither of the parents of a child can be notified for one of the reasons set out above (which would mean consent cannot be obtained from any of them):

  • notification must be sent to all those who have care of the child and written consent must be gained from at least one carer unless the bullet point below applies
  • where a child is looked after by a local authority or is accommodated or maintained by a voluntary organisation, the consent of the local authority, or as the case may be, the voluntary organisation must be gained

Schools and colleges could, at the same time as enrolling a child, notify parents that they wish to take and then use their child’s biometric information as part of an automated biometric recognition system and seek written consent to do so. In such circumstances, details of both parents should be requested by the school or college for both purposes (enrolment and notification of intention to process biometric information).

Under the Education (Pupil Registration) (Wales) Regulations 2010, schools are required to keep an admission register that includes the name and address of every person known to the school to be a parent of the learner, including non-resident parents. Schools who wish to notify and seek consent to process a child’s biometric information at any point after enrolment of a child at the school should, therefore, have contact details for most parents in the admission register. Schools should, however, be alert to the fact that the admission register may, for some reason, not include the details of both parents. Where the name of only one parent is included in the admission register, schools should consider whether any reasonable steps can or should be taken to ascertain the details of the other parent (for example, by asking the parent who is included in the admission register or, where the school is aware of local authority or other agency involvement with the child and its family, by making enquiries with the local authority or other agency).

Schools and colleges are not expected to engage the services of a ‘people tracer’ or detective agencies in doing so but are expected to take reasonable steps to locate a parent before they are able to rely on the exemption in section 27(1)(a) of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (notification of a parent not required if the parent cannot be found).

Schools and colleges must ensure that they satisfy themselves of the identity of any parents giving their consent.

There will never be any circumstances in which a school or college can process a child’s biometric information (for the purposes of an automated biometric recognition system) without one of the persons above having given written consent.

Notification sent to parents should include full information about the processing of their child’s biometric information. This information should include details about the type of biometric information to be taken; how it will be used; the parent’s and learner’s right to refuse or withdraw their consent; and the schools duty to provide alternative arrangements for those learners whose information cannot be processed. A sample ‘Notification and Consent’ template is included at the end of this advice.

The learner’s right to refuse

The Protection of Freedom Act 2012, Part 1 Chapter 2 (26)(5) states that if a learner of any age objects or refuses to participate (or to continue to participate) in anything that involves the processing of their biometric data for the purposes of an automated biometric recognition system, the school or college must ensure that the learner’s data are not processed, regardless of any consent given by their parents.

Schools and colleges should take steps to ensure that learners understand that they can object or refuse to allow their biometric data to be used and that, if they do so, the school or college will have to provide them an alternative way of accessing the relevant service. Parents should also be told of their child’s right to object or refuse and encouraged to discuss this with their child.  

Providing alternatives

Reasonable alternative arrangements must be provided for learners who do not use automated biometric recognition systems, either because their parents have refused consent or due to their own refusal to participate.

Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA 2018) and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR)

The UK data protection regime is set out in the DPA 2018, along with the UK GDPR. Almost anything to do with data counts as processing; including collecting, recording, storing, using, analysing, combining, disclosing or deleting it.

The DPA 2018 sets out the framework for data protection law in the UK. It updates and replaces the Data Protection Act 1998, and came into effect on 25 May 2018. It was amended on 01 January 2021 by regulations under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, to reflect the UK’s status outside the EU. It sits alongside and supplements the UK GDPR.

UK GDPR is the UK General Data Protection Regulation. It is a UK law which came into effect on 01 January 2021. It sets out the key principles, rights and obligations for most processing of personal data in the UK.

Schools and colleges as data controllers must process learners’ personal data, including biometric data, in accordance with UK GDPR. The provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 are in addition to the requirements in the DPA with which schools and colleges must continue to comply.

The DPA 2018 is split into a number of different parts, which apply in different situations and perform different functions. It sets out three separate data protection regimes with the relevant part for schools and colleges being; Part 2: General processing (UK GDPR).

The principles of the DPA 2018 must be considered when a school or college is deciding whether to introduce a biometric system and deciding which system is most appropriate.

When processing a child’s personal data, including any such data used for the purposes of automated biometric recognition systems, schools and colleges must: 

  • hold biometric data securely to prevent unauthorised or unlawful use of the data
  • store biometric data for no longer than it is needed. A school or college should, therefore, destroy any data held on a biometric system once a learner no longer uses the system. For example, the data should be destroyed if the learner leaves the school or college, or if parents withdraw consent or the child no longer wishes to have his or her biometric data processed
  • ensure that such data is used only for the purposes for which it is obtained and that it is not unlawfully disclosed to third parties
  • for further practical advice see the associated resources section below

Data Protection Impact Assessment

Article 35 of the GDPR introduces the concept of a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA). DPIA is a tool to help you identify and minimise data protection risks. Conducting a DPIA meets, in parts, a school’s or college’s accountability obligations under GDPR, and is an integral part of the ‘data protection by default and by design’ approach. An effective DPIA helps you to identify and fix problems at an early stage, demonstrate compliance with your data protection obligations and meet learners’ expectations of privacy.

A DPIA is required when the processing is “likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of natural persons” (Article 35(1)). You need to conduct a DPIA when processing data concerning vulnerable data subjects, which includes children (they can be considered as not able to knowingly and thoughtfully oppose or consent to the processing of their data). A DPIA should also be used if implementing an innovative use of individual’s data or applying new technological or organisational solutions, such as combining use of finger print and face recognition for improved physical access control.

A DPIA does not have to eradicate all risk, but should help to minimise it and determine whether or not the level of risk is acceptable in the circumstances. Conducting a DPIA does not have to be complex or time-consuming in every case, but there must be a level of rigour in proportion to the privacy risks arising.

There is no definitive DPIA template that must be followed. Schools/colleges can use a standard template or develop their own template and process to suit their particular needs. Further guidance and a sample template are available on the ICO website (ICO).

Frequently asked questions

What information should schools/colleges provide to parents/learners to help them decide whether to object or to give their consent?

Schools and colleges should take steps to ensure parents receive full information about the processing of their child’s data including a description of the kind of system they plan to use, the nature of the sensitive data they process, what the purposes of the processing are and how the data will be obtained, used and stored. This will enable any objection or consent by a parent to be an informed decision.

What if one parent disagrees with the other?

Schools and colleges will be required to notify all parents that they intend to take and process the child’s biometric information. If one parent objects then the school or college will not be permitted to process the child’s data.

How will the child’s right to object work in practice, must they do so in writing?

No, the child is not required to object in writing. Whilst an older child may be able to say that they object to the processing of their biometric data, a younger child may show reluctance to take part in the physical process of giving the data. In either case, the school or college will not be permitted to collect or process the data and will have to provide reasonable alternative arrangements to enable the child to access the relevant service.

What if a child requests that their parents are not contacted?

Schools and colleges must notify all parents of learners under the age of 18 where they intend to obtain and subsequently use their child’s biometric information as part of an automated biometric recognition system. If a child requests that their parents are not contacted, schools and colleges may decide not to contact the child’s parents. However, if all parents are not notified and consent cannot be obtained from parents whose consent is required, biometric information cannot be collected or processed.

Do local authorities have a right to refuse to allow schools to install biometric systems?

Governing bodies of maintained schools have the power in law to do anything which appears to them to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of, or in conjunction with, the conduct of the school. They, therefore, have the power to install a biometric system in their school for purposes such as improving the administrative efficiency of the school. The law does not require a governing body of a maintained school to obtain the expressed consent of the local authority to a proposal to install a biometric system in the school.

Are schools/colleges required to ask/tell parents before introducing an automatic biometric recognition system?

The law does not require schools and colleges to consult parents before installing an automated biometric system. However, they are required to notify parents and obtain consent from at least one parent before their child’s biometric data is obtained or used for the purposes of such a system. It is up to schools and colleges to decide whether they think it is appropriate to consult parents and learners in advance of installing such a system.

Do schools need to renew consent every year?

No, the original written consent is valid until such time as it is withdrawn. However, if a parent or the child objects at any stage to the processing of the data, then the processing must cease. When the learner leaves the school or college, their data should be removed from the system.

Can consent be withdrawn by the child or parent?

Parents will be able to withdraw their consent, in writing, at any time. In addition, any other parent will be able to object, in writing, at any time to the processing of their child’s data. The child’s right to refuse applies both to the giving of consent and the ongoing processing of biometric data. If at any time the child objects to the processing of biometric data, the school or college must stop doing so.

Will consent given on entry to primary or secondary school be valid until the child leaves that school?

Yes, consent will be valid until the child leaves the school. If at any point the parents or the child decide that the data should not be processed, they will have the right to have it stopped and removed from the school’s system.

Can the school notify parents and accept consent via email?

Yes, as long as the school is satisfied that the email contact details are accurate and the consent received is genuine.

Will parents be asked for retrospective consent?

No, any processing that has taken place prior to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 coming into force will not be affected. However, any school or college that wishes to use, or to continue to use, automated biometric recognition systems will have to ensure that they have sent the necessary notifications to all parents and obtained the written consent from at least one parent before continuing or starting to use, such systems.

Does the legislation cover other technologies such a palm and iris scanning?

The legislation covers all systems which, by means of equipment operating, automatically record or use physical or behavioural characteristics for the purpose of identification. This will include systems which use palm, iris or face recognition amongst others, as well as fingerprints.

Is parental notification and consent required for the use of photographs and CCTV in schools?

No, not unless the use of photographs and CCTV is for the purpose of an automated biometric recognition system. However, schools and colleges must adhere to the requirements in the DPA 2018 when using CCTV on their premises for general security purposes, or when using photographs of learners as part of a manual ID system or as part of an automated system that uses a barcode to provide a child with access to services. Depending on the circumstances of each case, consent may be required or be advisable under the Data Protection Act provisions. Photo ID card systems where a child’s photograph is scanned to provide him or her with services would fall within the obligations on schools and colleges, under sections 26 to 28 of the Protection of Freedom Act 2012, as such systems fall within the definition in that Act of automated biometric recognition systems.  

Is parental notification or consent required where a child uses or accesses standard commercial sites or software which use face recognition technology?

The provisions in the Protection of Freedom Act 2012 only cover the processing of biometric data by or on behalf of the school or college. If a school or college wishes to use such software for school/college work then the requirement to notify parents and to obtain parental consent will apply. However, if a learner is using this software for their own personal purposes then the provisions do not apply, even if the software is accessed using school or college equipment.

Associated resources

Welsh Government guidance for schools on communicating with parents and obtaining consent: parents and parental responsibility: guidance for schools

ICO guide to data protection: guide to Data Protection (ICO)

ICO guidance for education establishments: schools, universities and colleges (ICO)

Template notification and consent form

The following is an optional notification letter and consent form for schools and colleges to use to notify parents. Schools and colleges may wish to adapt the text in light of their own particular systems (and, for example, the text may be adapted to notify parents of current learners already using systems) but should ensure that parents are made aware of the requirements of sections 26-28 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

Notification of intention to process learners’ biometric information

Dear [name of parent/carer]

The school [or college] wishes to use information about your child as part of an automated (i.e. electronically-operated) recognition system. This is for the purposes of [specify what purpose is; e.g. catering, library access?]. The information from your child that we wish to use is referred to as ‘biometric information’ (see next paragraph). Under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (sections 26 to 28), we are required to notify each parent of a child and obtain the written consent of at least one parent before being able to use a child’s biometric information for an automated system.

Biometric information and how it will be used

Biometric information is information about a person’s physical or behavioural characteristics that can be used to identify them, for example, information from their [fingerprints/iris/palm]. The school [or college] would like to take and use information from your child’s [insert biometric to be used] for the purpose of providing your child with [specify what purpose is].

This information will be used as part of an automated biometric recognition system, which will take measurements of your child’s [insert biometric to be used] and convert these measurements into a template to be stored on the system. An image of your child’s [insert biometric to be used] is not stored. The template (i.e. measurements) taken from your child’s [insert biometric], is what will be used to permit your child to access services.

The school [or college] will not use the biometric information for any purpose other than that stated above. The school [college] will store the biometric information collected securely and will not share this information with any third parties other than [insert any third party with which the information is to be shared e.g. X supplier of biometric systems].

Providing your consent

As stated above, in order to be able to use your child’s biometric information, the written consent of at least one parent is required. However, consent given by one parent will be overridden if the other parent objects in writing to the use of their child’s biometric information. Similarly, if your child objects to this, the school [or college] cannot collect or use their biometric information for inclusion on the automated recognition system.

You can also object to the proposed processing of your child’s biometric information at a later stage or withdraw any consent you have previously given. This means that, if you give consent but later change your mind, you can withdraw this consent. Please note that any consent, withdrawal of consent or objection from a parent must be in writing.

Even if you have consented, your child may object or refuse at any time to their biometric information being taken/used. Their objection does not need to be in writing. Please could you discuss this with your child.

If you do not wish your child’s biometric information to be processed by the school [or college], or your child objects to such processing, the law says that we must provide reasonable alternative arrangements that allow them to access the [insert relevant service, e.g. school library].

If you give consent to the processing of your child’s biometric information, please sign, date and return the enclose consent form to the school [or college].

Please note that when your child leaves the school [or college], or if for some other reason they cease to use the biometric system, their biometric data will be deleted.

Further information and guidance

 

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