Parents sharing information about COVID-positive children in school WhatsApp groups could be sued under GDPR legislation.
It comes after the HSE warned parents that discussing a child’s COVID status on school WhatsApp groups is a breach of their confidentiality under data protection legislation.
Since yesterday, children aged 12 and under no longer need to restrict their movements when they are close contacts of another schoolchild, unless they are experiencing symptoms of the virus.
The change saw around 10,000 children who were absent from school under the old rules returning.
Meanwhile, school principals have been told there is “no clinical need” for parents of classmates to be informed when a child tests positive.
'Legal grey area'
Data expert Darragh O’Brien told Newstalk that parents discussing children’s COVID status in WhatsApp groups could find themselves in a "legal grey area".
“The processing of information for domestic use – for your own personal or household use – is outside the scope of the legislation but once you move into an organised public sharing of information, even if you are not a school or a business etc, you are in that grey area where you could actually fall under the scope of the legislation and all that comes with it,” he said.
He said parents could be sued for sharing the information.
“Parents and indeed anyone sending messages on WhatsApp groups needs to really think about, is this going to be distressing to people, would they like it if it was being said about them and also is it true and if it is not true, is it harmful or hurtful to people,” he said.
“It is also worth bearing in mind that people can actually be sued for breaching data protection rules. It is not just the Data Protection Commissioner, there is also civil liability.”
Siobhan O’Neill, founder of Mams.ie, said her child was “outed” in a WhatsApp group.
“I have seen people saying such and such has COVID and they got it from such and such and that information hasn’t actually been true,” she said.
“So, they are very, very dangerous and the schools have no control over what people do outside the school property and they have no control over what the students do on social media.”
The HSE has said it is important families do not feel targeted or pressured to release information.
It reminded parents that children should not attend school if they have COVID symptoms and should be tested for the virus as soon as possible.
Reporting from Mairéad Cleary