'Child protection' database slammed as plod data mine
Troubled kids' pasts open to investigators
A new database purporting to help protect vulnerable children could be used by authorities to gather evidence against them for criminal prosecutions, it has emerged.
The ContactPoint database is being promoted as a tool to ease cooperation between schools, social services and other authorites who hold information on kids. The £224m scheme is part of the government's "Every Child Matters" initiative, launched in 2003 in the wake of the inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbié, whose abuse was repeatedly overlooked by authorities.
But now The Telegraph reports that ContactPoint will also serve as an investigative data mine until young people reach their 24th birthday. Guidelines on the databases' applications say archives will be available "for the prevention or detection of crime" and "for the prosecution of offenders".
The database will not include specific case information, but will record if a child has contact with police and drug workers, for example. This has prompted fears from civil liberties groups it will be used to insinuate a troubled past in court. No2ID's Phil Booth said: "Parents should know that this is not for the protection of their children, it could be used to prosecute them. This is a serious step on from what little has been told to the public."
An estimated 330,000 people will have access to ContactPoint, which government contractor CapGemini will open for business this autumn. Its launch was delayed by the inquiry into repeated data losses by HMRC and other government bodies.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families defended the scheme. "To access ContactPoint for the purposes of prevention or detection of crime or for the prosecution of offenders, police would have to make a special request directly to the Secretary of State or Local Authority and make a case for disclosure," it said.
Last week the government said it was storing the genetic profiles of 40,000 innocent children in the National DNA Database. ®
Circumventing vulnerability in PDS
As i understand it, all children will be on this database, along with details of parents/guardians. Including their demographic details.
In the NHS, PDS (Personal Demographic Service) holds the demographic details of everyone registered with a GP: but it is possible to have the address, phone number and registered GP withheld or concealed - which means you can't use Choose and Book!
It is worth it for some people who legitimately do not want to be found - but don't qualify for witness protection.
AFAIAA there is no possibility of any demographics, either of child or parent/guardian being concealed in the children's database.
Regardless of risk.
Great speech, Nile.... what a shame that you have clearly never, ever undertaken any actual research about what you have set yourself on a soapbox about.
ContactPoint is indeed a database... but it's a database of contact information (errmmm... hence the name...), not a database of case information. It's a meta-directory. Sure, a certain amount of information can be inferred simply from the existence of other information, but the most sensitive stuff is "cloaked", so that a "cloaked" contact is informed of an enquirer's enquiry about a nominal, without that enquirer being informed about that contact's existence. So a child or young person could be referred to a (say) a genito-urinary specialist medical practitioner because of a sexual health issue, and the latter could use ContactPoint to be informed if there were any later NHS enquiries without the NHS enquirer ever being aware of the sexual health specialist's involvement. The records show contact details only, nothing else.
And the really, really funny part? There is no national case management system for the Child Protection officers in the 43 police forces in England and Wales: some forces use the same type of system, but none have common databases. There were plans for a national system, indeed Recommendation 104 of Lord Laming's enquiry into Victoria Climbie's death was specific about this. But it never happened, the project was cancelled due lack of funding by PITO, the Home Office NDPB that was subsumed into the NPIA in April 2007. So there's no direct access to ContactPoint *at all* by ANY police officer, and specialised Child Protection police officers can only find out if a child or young person is listed on ContactPoint by asking their Social Services colleagues.
Thus, this simple fact also completely debunks about 75% of the utter shite in many of the posts in this thread. Looks like the national Press coverage also overlooked this interesting nugget of information. Never mind folks, you didn't let the facts get in the way of a good dose of paranoid mob-frenzy, did you...?
Is there any point in having the word 'Confidential' in the dictionary?
Linking-up personal data is almost always a bad idea: the inefficiency of needing to make 'phone calls and get authorisation to perform a task for one individual, when half-a-second's worth of cross-database SQL could do it for thousands, is actually a valuable safeguard. Because sometimes it's better not to join up the dots; to let it lie undisturbed.
Now for some specifics, and a hypothetical... Just about *all* children with problems serious enough to need Social Services intervention and an entry on the 'At Risk' register get into trouble with the law at some point in their teenage years. I could wish that this wasn't the case, but it is.
What we've created is a monster, like an overbearing Chief Constable who decides to raid the needle exchange schemes and seize the records at addiction clinics: it's class 'A' drugs, they're all criminals, and we've got to uphold the law, haven't we? Identify them, arrest them, prosecute them and give them all a criminal record. Yes, it happens: there are Daily Mail readers in the Police, too, and plenty of them on the Police Committee. Democratic accountability has a downside, and even the best policemen are sometimes forced to do stupid and damaging things.
Now why would I call up such a shocking 'worst case' example of the misuse of power? Seeking help from Social Services - or, in the case of children on this new database, having help imposed on you - now carries a similar risk: nothing as overt as an immediate arrest, but if you ever were helped by the Social, you're an easy lookup on an all-too-convenient list of suspects and the Police can use the file to come knocking on your door every time they're short of the target for clear-up rates. And the courts will use it in evidence against you; your employers - prospective and present - will get hold of it; the press will get hold of it (Petition organiser has secret shame!!! Everyone who campaigns against our advertisers is a filthy pervert who was arrested at age 14!!!); blackmailers will get hold of it. Your wife's divorce lawyer will get hold of it. And all the time, you will have to declare it and answer intrusive questions, every time you interact with officialdom, justifying yourself over and over again.
The core principle of our youth justice system is a belief - admittedly, somewhat naive - that the young are malleable, that young offenders can make a fresh start: what you did when you were legally a child will be dealt with *at the time* and that will be the end of the matter. Whatever it was, if it happened when you were legally a child, you are not deemed to be culpable to the same degree as an adult would be, and you will not be held to account throughout your adult life for your actions. Which is to say: the record is *closed* and the follies of your youth are a confidential matter between you and your guardians, and the law will leave it be.
That freedom is now gone. We've just torn up an essential right to grow up, be declared an adult, and be free of a bad childhood. Three hundred and thirty thousand people will have all the access that they want, to everything you did before you were 18. That is to say: everyone who matters, everyone who has power over your life and work.
Why not save all the consultancy fees and go back to branding them on the cheek?
No, wait... Our barbaric forefathers didn't do that to children.
Note, also, that although criminal offences are the point-of-access for this invasion, those three hundred thousand people will have access to everything you did. Criminal or not. Dealt with by the school, or the care home, or by referral to the Local Authority's educational psychology unit: everything.
The word 'confidential' may as well be deleted from the dictionary. What a terrible price for being helped by the Social Services.
As some readers have pointed out, you and I have nothing to fear. I sincerely hope that this was irony.
Now for an ugly hypothetical: Social Workers are called-in, in all cases of incest and underage sex. This is probably he most sensitive work that anyone does, anywhere, and it, too, is surely on the database: this is, after all, a criminal matter. Take the worst case: school-age girls (and, in all probability, boys) working as prostitutes out of the care homes in a city in the Midlands. Yes, they got picked up by the Police. Repeatedly. Now what? Can the courts refer to them, years later, as 'A common Prostitute' if they are picked up by the Police, walking home alone in a dodgy area? Can the defence in a rape trial use this data?
What will the less-scrupulous individuals on that third-of-a-million people with access to the 'confidential' data make of it?