In an investigation report dated July 21, 2015, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data ("PCPD") upheld a complaint by a former employee of Queenix (Asia) Limited ("Queenix") that the collection of her fingerprint data for the purposes of accessing Queenix's offices and monitoring employee attendance was unnecessary and excessive and that the manner of collection unfair.  

The key findings of the PCPD were that: 

  • Fingerprint data amounts to highly sensitive personal data, given that it is not only capable of identifying an individual but is also unique to that individual. As such, collection, retention, and use of fingerprint data should be managed with extreme caution, and it should be used only if less intrusive means are unavailable.
  • The use of fingerprint data by Queenix was excessive in the circumstances, taking into account the following questions:
    • Was collection of the data a necessary and effective means to meet the purposes of safeguarding office attendance and monitoring security?
    • Was the adverse impact on data privacy proportionate to the benefits arising from the collection of fingerprint data?
    • Was there any less intrusive way to achieve the same purpose?

Queenix had few employees, and there was no evidence that the use of fingerprint recognition helped to improve security. In the view of the PCPD, the same purpose could have been achieved by use of a smart access card that did not contain personal data and the implementation of other security measures, such as the use of additional locks after hours. The employee's consent to the collection of her fingerprint data was not genuine and fair, because Queenix made collection compulsory for employee access and did not provide other alternatives.

In light of the Queenix case, Hong Kong employers who use fingerprint data for security access or similar purposes should carefully review their policies and procedures. In particular, employers should consider whether the use of fingerprint data is genuinely required for the purpose for which it is collected, and whether alternative measures can be used and offered to employees

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