Clarity sought over random drug tests at international schools here

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International schools conducting such tests may be violating PDPA, says parent

A test case now before the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) could decide how random drug tests for international school students stand with data protection laws here.

Dutch national Marc van Loo, whose teenage son attends an international school here, is seeking clarity from the PDPC on whether the school's policy violates the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). Dr van Loo is a permanent resident.

He argued schools that make consent to random drug testing a condition for enjoying their education service are violating "the PDPA because both these acts embrace the principle that consent cannot be a condition for provision of service".

He was referring to a section in the law that forbids an organisation to require an individual to consent to the collection, use or disclosure of personal data about the individual as a condition for providing a service or a product.

It is understood that schools like the German European School Singapore and Tanglin Trust School conduct such tests.

"This involves the collection of personal data (hair or urine samples) and potentially very stiff penalties, including expulsion," said Dr van Loo.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the school where his son is a student said it is "currently engaging the PDPC on the issue".

It added that it has a "transparent, longstanding and strict policy on maintaining itself as a drugs-free institution".

It said the school has instituted clearly articulated by-laws on random drug testing within clear parameters.

These are "expressly consented to by all students and/or their parents from the time the students are admitted".

Tanglin Trust School has a similar policy indicated on its website, which explains that before "accepting the offer of a conditional place in the Senior School, parents are required to sign a consent form allowing the student to be tested for consumption of illegal drugs (which may include all controlled drugs and specified drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act)".

A Ministry of Education spokesman said it does not require schools under the ministry to conduct random drug tests on students.

Dr van Loo, who has three sons, told ST he is "happy with the school our children attend".

"But I do not believe it is a school's job to meddle in law enforcement, let alone to collect deeply personal data from children in the process. Parents should retain absolute authority over sensitive personal data of their children".

A PDPC spokesman said itis looking into the matter and will issue its decision when investigations are completed.