Minister’s database rethink #POD 

Serious concerns, raised with the Minister for Education, regarding the proposed data retention period for the Primary Online Database (POD) may be allayed by a piece in today’s Irish Examiner

Parents, data experts and the Data Protection Commisioner alike have all been petitioning Minister O’Sullivan over many issues and worries regarding POD; including the excessive thirty year retention period for student data. 

It now looks like the Minister will be announcing that student data will be held until their 19th birthday. After that date, their information will become depersonalised and only used for statistical and analytical purposes (I’d like to see more details on this).

This clearly is a textbook example of citizens using democratic channels (official means like contacting the Data Commisioner’s office and unofficial channels like creating all merry hell on Twitter!) to highlight ill-conceived elements of a government policy (the introduction of POD). 

Trojan POD? – the plot thickens

Tweet by Simon McGarr (@Tupp_Ed)

Trojan Horse

I wrote to the data protection commissioner last week following a response from my local school after I highlighted my concerns about the purposes of the Primary Online Database (POD), issues with consent and the excessive length of time all data will be stored. I felt none of these issues had been sufficiently addressed in the circular sent out by schools when they did request consent to information on ethnicity and religion.

I used the phrase ‘trojan horse’ in the letter when I described POD.

POD is, in my opinion, like a trojan horse, an apparently innocuous database with a hidden agenda

I did not know last week, when I was writing those words, what would surface over the weekend.

Louise O’Keeffe vs. The State

Dublin based solicitor Simon McGarr and other equally talented data protection specialists unearthed a troubling timeline. The genesis of which was the 2008 Louise O’Keefe action against the state;

in Dec 2008 the Supreme Court ruled against Ms O’Keeffe’s claim that the State had a liability for her abuse at school, the Government moved in heavily on other paedophile victims to scare them off taking similar legal action

Irish Examiner, ‘Kenny should apologise for hounding abuse victims’, Feb, 2014.

Thankfully, Louise had the strength to proceed to the European Court of Human Rights.

POD

So the ECHR found the state liable for abuse suffered in state schools. How did the Department react? It came up with a student database with an excessive data retention policy to defend against possible future litigation.

At the top of this post you will see one of Simon’s excellent tweets discussing possible reasoning for the excessive retention times.

This handout quoted was part of a presentation in 2014 called Data Protection for Schools. Section 3.3.2 deals with record retention;

The time period may be tied to a statutory provision requiring an employer to keep certain information for a minimum period (eg. time-sheets etc), or may be tied to protecting the legitimate interests of the school (eg. to defend litigation).

So it seems, according to this information given out to schools that POD will keep data on students for a minimum of thirty years to protect ‘the legitimate interests of the school‘ specifically; ‘to defend litigation‘.

This was not on the information letter sent out by schools.

As a parent, am I not entitled to all the relevant information before I consent to my child’s information being held on POD.

More, I’m sure, to follow.

Data gathering methods called into question for POD (Primary Online Database)

The Department of Education is currently gathering data for its live Primary Online Database, POD. However, there are concerns that the methods employed to gather information may be in breach of data protection legislation.

Please listen to the excellent clip from RTE’s Morning Ireland on Thursday, 15th January 2015 discussing the issue with Dublin solicitor specialises in data protection, Simon McGarr.

Most of the data for POD is being submitted automatically by Primary schools, without parents’ permission.

Further information such as ethnicity, cultural background and religion are currently being gathered by schools. There is also the issue of what the information gathered will be used for;

In the longer term it is proposed that POD will also share data with the Department of Social Protection, the HSE and the NCSE, and other bodies, eliminating the need for many of the current data requests to schools from these bodies, for example in relation to vaccination programmes, child benefit claims, application for special educational needs.

So as a parent, are you reassured by the above statement from the Department of Education website?

As I type this, it is proposed that the information carried by the database will be held until the child turns thirty, although, as mentioned in the audio, Minister for Education and skills, Jan O’Sullivan has said she will look again, at this figure.

I have written to my daughter’s school including all Simon’s points. I’ve also sent a copy of the letter to the Department of Education, on Simon’s advice (over twitter, he’s really very good) and hope to pass on any replies I receive to the data protection commissioner.

Further reflections on the gathering of information for the Primary Online Database (POD) can be found on David O’Callaghan’s blog post entitled, ‘Thoughts on the Primary Online Database‘.