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Pressure group: perverts will use tech to track your kids

'We don't know for certain we shouldn't get worried'

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The other concern regarding biometrics was that police would be able to search school fingerprint records and so place individual children at crime scenes, or simply use the attendance register to check their whereabouts at given times.

Of course, the plods could use ordinary paper registers generated from rollcalls, too; children are already subject to a fairly intrusive degree of monitoring. Also, in serious cases, police already carry out mass voluntary fingerprinting or DNA sampling of possible suspects in a given area - those who refuse to give their prints get looked into more closely. But it's fair to say that school or national kid-print databases could make the plods' lives easier.

The report also warns of the dangers inherent in such technologies as GPS or RFID-embedded school uniforms, and tracking by mobile phone or other portable device. Dowty said these technologies would be trivially easy for older children to circumvent, so that in fact they offered very little to their users. However, she said the real danger was not so much in the technology as the mindset that went with it. According to the report:

The potential for children to become habituated to accept a far higher level of surveillance than society now tolerates is considerable...

The [voluntary industry code] discourages the over-emphasis of ‘stranger danger’, but it remains a feature of advertising material. Abduction by a stranger remains rare.

By contrast a child is over 200 times more likely to be killed or injured when walking or cycling down the street, and yet some [tracking] products are aimed at very young children, implying that it is acceptable for them to be out alone at an age when few would be able to cross a busy road safely. There is a risk that parents may be lulled into a false sense of security.

While tracking was unlikely to actually work on a non-compliant older child, Ms Dowty argued that it sent the wrong message to parents of youngsters.

"It could make parents feel that it is acceptable to let four-year-olds out of the home unsupervised," she said. "A tracking device won't keep your child safe from traffic accidents."

ARCH believes that children themselves - not their parents - should give consent to being tracked, just as is supposed to be the case with adults (unless the adults fall afoul of a spook or copper with a warrant).

"We feel that if a child is too young to meaningfully consent to being tracked, they shouldn't be unsupervised," said Dowty.

ARCH also seemed to suggest that kid-tracking would be a goldmine for paedophiles - even though abduction by strangers is "rare".

The voluntary code does not include any requirement that those with access to children’s location details have background checks carried out... The potential for misuse or corrupt disclosure of child location information presents a significant threat to children’s safety, particularly... where information is given to a person who may commit offences against a child.

The message seems to be that you should indeed bubblewrap your kids, but do it yourself or have it done by people you trust*. ®

*Yes, we know this is the very group most likely to commit serious abuse of your child. Interpret that how you like. This correspondent, as a dad himself, is just going to calm down a bit, personally. If an ignorant rabble like our parents managed to bring us up, I expect we'll cope now it's our turn. Despite the deadly threat from PERVERTS, even ones using NEW TECHNOLOGY.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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