Tuesday 21 January 2020

EU court to rule in student's 'personal data' case

Peter Nowak claims his exam paper is ‘personal data’. Photo: Courtpix
Peter Nowak claims his exam paper is ‘personal data’. Photo: Courtpix

Tim Healy

The Court of Justice of the European Union will be asked to decide whether a man's accountancy exam paper is personal data, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Peter Nowak, a registered student with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ireland (CAI), claimed he was entitled to access his exam paper under the Data Protection Acts.

He had passed the CAI's first-level accountancy exams and three of the second-level exams.

However, he failed the strategic finance and management accounting exam on four separate occasions.

On the fourth occasion, Autumn 2009, he sought to challenge the result and submitted a data access request to the CAI. The CAI released 17 items but not the exam script.

He sought assistance from the Data Protection Commissioner who advised him exam scripts "would not generally constitute personal data".

The Commissioner refused to investigate his complaint on grounds it was not sustainable on legal grounds and, in a technical sense, was frivolous and vexatious.

Mr Nowak appealed the Commissioner's decision to the Circuit Court which found no appeal lay from the determination of the Commissioner.

He appealed that decision to the High Court which upheld the Circuit Court finding.

Mr Nowak, who represented himself in court, argued that because the script contains biometric data, in that it is handwritten, that constitutes personal data.

He also said if the results of exams are considered personal, then the "raw material" from which the result is derived, and possibly the comments and marks of the examiner, can also be personal data.

The Supreme Court said the issue of whether the exam script was personal data should be referred to the CJEU. That court should also address the question of what factors are relevant and what weight should be given to them in determining whether it is personal data.

Irish Independent

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