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'Child protection' database slammed as plod data mine

Troubled kids' pasts open to investigators

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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. ®

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