Singapore

School's random drug test not in breach of law, says PDPC

A test case decided by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC) has clarified how random drug tests for international school students stand with data protection laws here.

The commission held, after a probe into a parent's complaint about his son's hair sample being taken by the German European School Singapore (GESS), that there was no breach of the relevant data protection laws here.

"Schools are best placed to determine the appropriate school rules and by-laws to establish in order to discharge their various responsibilities and create an environment that is conducive to meet the educational needs of their students," said Deputy Commissioner for Personal Data Protection Yeong Zee Kin.

This may require "drug tests for certain students or in certain circumstances to ensure a safe environment and to detect behaviour and habits that may affect a student's scholastic performance," he added, in decision grounds issued on Monday. Mr Yeong noted it was open to the parent to take his son out of the school and be enrolled elsewhere.

He said Section 16(3) of the Personal Data Protection Act safeguards the parent who made the complaint to the Commission, by ensuring GESS cannot stop the parent from withdrawing consent to his son's sample being taken.

"But the complainant will have to live with any legal consequences arising from such withdrawal," said Mr Yeong, which could mean enrolling the son in another school.

The names of the parents and the student were omitted in the decision grounds as he is a minor.

The parent had complained to the PDPC four days after the school had taken a hair sample from his son in January last year, alleging it did not have consent to collect and use the personal data contained in the hair sample.

He argued the school had contravened the relevant provisions of the Act and that "deemed consent" under the Act did not apply because he had not voluntarily provided his son's personal data to the school for specific purposes.

Responding to the Commission's probe, GESS relied on two agreements between the school and the boy's mother as well as the father's correspondence with the school, among other things, to show there was consent.

Deputy Commissioner Yeong, after reviewing all the evidence obtained in the probe, found GESS had obtained the necessary consent in connection with the hair sample.

He added there was valid implied consent for the purposes of the Act given the son had been enrolled in the school for more than 10 years and the parents must be taken to have agreed to enrol the student on the basis of the school's by-laws, which were made available to all.

Mr Yeong cited a similar view taken by a State Court district judge in a 2017 case in which a well-known secondary school had confiscated a student's mobile phone, as he had used it in breach of the school's rules.

Education