Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education and Skills Charlie McConalogue TD has criticized the Education Minister for her heavy-handed approach to the implementation of the ‘Primary Online Database’ (POD). The new database will collect the details of primary school pupils including sensitive private information on their racial profile, psychological assessments, medical and disability needs, religion, and PPS number. Furthermore her department will retain this information on children until they reach the age of 30, despite serious concerns having being raised about the security of the data and its compliance with the Data Protection Act.
Deputy McConalogue commented, “It is unacceptable that Minister O’Sullivan has refused to take on board the very serious concerns that both parents and teachers have surrounding her department’s plan to collect and retain sensitive pupil details such as psychological assessment results, medical needs and PPS numbers.
“I raised this matter in the Dáil yesterday and outlined the serious issues that have been raised with regard to the level of security of the database. I have been assured that all data collected will be adequately encrypted on a central system. However significant doubt has been cast over the security of the computer systems within individual schools that will collect the information in the first instance. To date I have been unable to get a guarantee from the Minister as to who will have access to this data and as to whether it will be secure during the transfer process between schools and her department.
“The Minister also failed to explain as to why her department needs to retain all of these details until pupils reach the age of 30. The Minister has shown scant regard for the Data Protection Act during this entire process. Her department began collecting the data in September 2014 without informing parents and without the prior consent of the Data Protection Commissioner. The Minister has also allowed data collection to continue despite concerns being raised by the Data Protection Commissioner regarding the collection and retention process. The department also did not tell parents about this new database until earlier this month despite the process having started last September.
Deputy McConalogue also criticized Minister O’Sullivan’s plan to penalize individual schools should parents fail to provide the required PPS details.
“It is unacceptable that the Minister has threatened to cut funding to schools should some parents fail to provide the relevant PPS details. Parents are understandably reluctant to hand over sensitive information about their children when outstanding security issues are yet to be addressed. It is not right that schools could potentially lose vital funding due to the departments failure to adequately allay the fears that parents have about this new system.
“I call on the Minister to put on hold the implementation of this database until the very serious security concerns surrounding its operation are addressed and to ensure that no school is at risk of losing funding due to her haphazard handling of the matter. The Minister must also clarify the necessity of retaining sensitive details of primary school pupils until they reach the age of 30,” concluded Deputy McConalogue.