Dutch court confirms legitimacy of online proctoring: here’s what it means for higher education and for your institution

On June 11th, the Amsterdam District Court ruled in favor of online proctoring, after a Student Council brought a case to raise their concerns against their university’s online exams practice. This legal decision validates the legitimacy of an online proctoring platform and demonstrates its ability to meet GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliance requirements. It is a strong reassurance for Higher Education Institutions investing in online education. If that is your case, read our decoding to see what this decision means for your organisation. 

Online proctoring: the obvious solution, but raising legitimate concern from students 

When the COVID-19 crisis hit Europe, Higher Education Institutions all faced the same challenge: ensuring academic continuity for students without compromising their curriculum. This implied providing solutions for a reliable remote examination process, while not being able to host assessments directly on campus. Online proctoring appeared as the obvious solution for many universities in order to meet these requirements.

Remote online assessments introduce a new way of taking exams, which has raised legitimate concerns over students, as reflected in this legal case. The first one was around personal privacy and data management. How to make sure that the information shared during the assessment process (session recording, home background information, etc.) is not used in a compromising way? The second was related to their freedom of choice and the ability to be presented with an alternative option to remote exam invigilation.

Decision from the court validates legal compliance and legitimacy of online proctoring

The decision issued by the judge provided answers to both questions raised by students. It confirmed that online proctoring can be fully GDPR compliant ; in other terms, respectful of student privacy all along the examination process. GRPR sets stringent rules in terms of processing personal data, limiting its use to what is strictly necessary for a specific purpose (here, to remotely identify the test taker and to monitor the exam process). GDPR compliance thus provides a guarantee for students that remote invigilation does not infringe on their personal privacy.

The court also approved the university’s argument that online proctoring was the only way to conduct online assessments while protecting the integrity and validity of the exams, courses or the institution. In other words, it confirmed that there are no better alternatives to avoid delays in student's academic progress, in particular for high stakes exams which are decisive for degree completion.

What it means for institutions: plan ahead and take all precautions

Getting jurisdictional confirmation over the legal legitimacy of online proctoring doesn’t dispense Higher Education Institutions with carefully managing this process.

Conducting remote examinations successfully requires effective change management. It means that you should provide complete and transparent information regarding data protection and privacy to your students and staff, and guide them step-by-step through the process of online invigilation. Institutions who report positive outcomes from their remote exams process have several communication channels and best practices in place. NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, for instance, published a detailed FAQ which helps students onboard digital education tools and get prepared for their online tests. ETS Global also published FAQ pages to help students

In regards to privacy and legal requirements, partnering with a GDPR compliant online proctoring solution is only one side of the coin. Your institution is fully responsible for demonstrating compliance to these requirements. This is a thorough process, which requires anticipation and preparation. Not only do you need to ensure your data processing activities are handled appropriately, you also need to document it and disclose detailed proof around it. 
For further guidance on GDPR, read our article on how to build your case for compliant implementation of online proctoring in your institution