Feeds

UK child protection database 'misguided', critics warn

Think of the children

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

UK government policies designed to safeguard kids might backfire by diverting valuable resources while creating a "culture of surveillance" where the role of parents is sidelined, according to a report for the Information Commissioner published on Wednesday.

The study, Children's Databases: Safety and Privacy (PDF), takes a critical look at child databases designed to collate information from multiple agencies including schools, doctors, social workers and law enforcement. By linking up these databases in an index, the government hopes to reduce the incidence of serious child abuse, highlighted by the Climbié case.

But the report warns that by extending Britain's child protection systems - from the 50,000 children currently identified as been in substantial risk of serious harm to the 3-4 million children with some form of welfare issue - means that the most serious cases might receive less attention. The study also warns that the system will intrude into family life in violation of data protection and human rights law. Children listed on the system might become "stigmatised" by being labeled as at risk of becoming criminals.

Furthermore moving responsibility from teachers, doctors and social workers to a central system might also erode parental responsibility, critics believe. It's also possible kids might be pressurised into providing intrusive data on themselves, their parents and friends without proper safeguards.

The study was produced for the Information Commissioner by the IT think tank Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR). Its authors included academics, computer scientists, a law professor and a representative of a leading children's charity.

Director of Action on Rights for Children Terri Dowty said: "Offering services that support families is highly desirable, but you need to listen to parents and children in order to understand their problems. As it is, the Government proposes to take the child protection system and apply it to all aspects of children's health and welfare needs, when the system doesn't have the needed resources anyway. We also don't want a surveillance system that forces professionals to be defensive and suspicious, and make clumsy risk assessments."

Academic critics of the policy warn it threatens to erode the privacy and autonomy of families. Dr Eileen Munro, of the London School of Economics said: "When dealing with child abuse, we do need to override privacy. But the new policy extends this level of intrusion into families that are not even suspected of abusing their children, and to all concerns about children's development. It will also over-stretch scarce resources, damage parents' confidence and divert services from focusing on real cases of abuse."

Critics argue the even though the government's aims are laudable replacing professional discretion with computerised assessments of human behaviour is the wrong approach to take. There's also concerns that the system will join the growing list of failed government IT initiatives.

The Government is currently running a consultation on proposed regulations for the Index. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Facebook pays INFINITELY MORE UK corp tax than in 2012
Thanks for the £3k, Zuck. Doh! you're IN CREDIT. Guess not
DOUBLE BONK: Testy fanbois catch Apple Pay picking pockets
Users wail as tapcash transactions are duplicated
Happiness economics is bollocks. Oh, UK.gov just adopted it? Er ...
Opportunity doesn't knock; it costs us instead
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
YARR! Pirates walk the plank: DMCA magnets sink in Google results
Spaffing copyrighted stuff over the web? No search ranking for you
In the next four weeks, 100 people will decide the future of the web
While America tucks into Thanksgiving turkey, the world will be taking over the net
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.