Kids have a right to all school data, says privacy chief

Even children as young as 12 years-old should be given access to information held on them by their schools, the Information Commissioner has said.

Schools are holding increasing amounts of information on children, with some schools even holding fingerprint data.

Children are just as entitled as adults to access to their information as protected by the Data Protection Act, said the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO). Schools must respect requests made by children from 12 years-old and up, and requests from parents for younger children, it said.

"The Data Protection Act gives us all important rights to access information held about us," said Phil Jones, Assistant Commissioner at the ICO. "Schools should treat students’ requests for their own personal information properly and requests for a student’s educational record must be processed within 15 days."

"As a general rule, students aged 12 and over should be considered mature enough to make a request for their own personal information, but as young people mature at different ages schools must treat each request on a case by case basis," he said.

Schools gathering fingerprint data on pupils now number in their thousands, according to campaigners, and many do not ask parents' consent before installing the systems. They are used in libraries and lunch halls to keep track of students' borrowing and consumption and at doors and gates to allow entry.

"A pupil, or someone acting on their behalf, has the right to access their personal information held by the school," says the ICO's guidance. "This includes information held on computer (or other automated means); information held in structured files; information in the educational record regardless of the form in which it is held, and unstructured information, for example, held in loose correspondence."

The law does not currently demand that parental consent is received before fingerprint and iris scan data is collected, but the ICO and Government are reported to be in talks on whether or not this should be made to be the case.

The ICO said recently that it was too late to stop biometric scanning in schools, even if it wanted to. David Smith, deputy information commissioner, told technology news site The Register that: "For us to come out now and say fingerprinting isn't allowed would be very difficult because these systems have come in over the last four years. We were asked about them and we said it was okay."