Feeds

Government swiftly backpedals on vetting scheme

Balls up for a quick review check

Mobile application security vulnerability report

The Vetting Database is in trouble: that’s official. Or rather, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), it most definitely is not.

That is why Ed Balls, Secretary of State at the DCSF, is absolutely NOT calling for "a review".

Rather, in a letter to Barry Sheerman, Chair of the Commons Select Committee for Children Schools and Families, Mr Balls was in wistful mood as he reviewed – sorry, considered – the hurtful and untrue things that some critics had said about his scheme.

He stressed the minimal burden that the new vetting scheme will impose on the average citizen. However, he agreed that there might be some scope for readjusting "the line that separates those situations that should be covered from those that should be excluded".

So he is instructing Sir Roger Singleton, chairman of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), to check the Government has drawn the line in the right place – and to report back by the beginning of December.

This reflects the fact that critics of the new vetting and safeguarding scheme have been quick to exploit some of the more ludicrous aspects inherent in attempting to draw up bureaucratic regulations to determine the circumstances when a relationship of trust might start to appear. At present, for instance, three formal contacts within a three month period – even with different vulnerable groups - would count.

This looks a little like the start of a fightback – not "a U-turn" in any sense, as the DCSF helpfully informs us - as government discovers a sure-fire vote-winner has less support than they expected. Hence yesterday's nannyish finger-wagging from Roger Singleton, reported as urging people to "calm down" and consider the issue "rationally".

He added that the new vetting system "is not about subjecting a quarter of the population to intensive scrutiny of their personal lives". Rather, "it is about bringing an end to the need for repeated CRB checks which so many people have found irritating".

The problem is that neither claim stands up. A document leaked to Josie Appleton, convenor of radical campaigning group the Manifesto Club and Organiser of a campaign against the vetting scheme, suggests that the degree of scrutiny will be mind-bogglingly intensive.

She reports in Spiked Online that the ISA has decided to put in place a scoring system to be filled in by its army of trained bureaucrats. Items will be assessed on the basis of "whether relevant conduct or a risk of harm "on the face of it" seems to have occurred".

Ms Appleton adds: "the case worker will examine... 'predisposing factors', such as 'those factors relating to an individual’s interests or drives'; 'cognitive factors', such as 'strong anti-social beliefs'; and 'behavioural factors', including 'using substances or sex to cope with stress or impulsive, chaotic or unstable lifestyle. Drug use, sex life, favourite films.'"

We are not sure whether readership of El Reg counts as a strong anti-social belief.

Then there are "hazards": for instance "inappropriate physical contact with a 12- to 16-year-old pupil during a lesson". Each hazard is scored for the impact it would have on a child, as well as the likelihood that it would happen. The end result will be a score determining whether an individual is "regulated" – or "barred" for life - from about a quarter of the UK’s jobs.

What then of the abolition of the CRB check?

El Reg has previously stated that it believes the Home Office estimates of the numbers needing to be vetted is hopelessly low. This is because the Home Office is basing it on what should happen, not what is actually likely to happen.

The CRB check and vetting use the same data, but provide totally different outputs. The first is a detailed listing of an individual’s history: the second a simple yes/no in respect of barring status.

According to Terri Dowty, Organiser of Action on Rights for Children (ARCH): "In any system, you have to choose whether you want false positives or false negatives. The vetting and barring system is going to tend towards false positives. That makes it all the more important for employers to see what it refers to in an individual’s history… but the vetting scheme does not do that."

Therefore employers are likely to continue to want to see the detail – because if they don’t request the detail and an employee goes on to abuse, they are likely to be sued.

A spokesman for the ISA was quick to reject suggestions that their new state-run system provided any absolute guarantee of safety. Meanwhile, the Home Office has pointed out that they do not anticipate any reduction in the volume of CRB checks. One official went so far as to say that a rise was not impossible.

Which is all the more reason why the real outcome of the new database is likely to be two systems running in parallel for a long time to come - although with the re-examination of the rules now under way, it is possible that the reach of the ISA will be slightly less wide than originally anticipated. ®

Bootnote

The origins of the vetting database lie in the perceived need to prevent "another Ian Huntley".

Unfortunately, the current guidelines would not do that. Huntley accessed the children he murdered through their relationship with his partner – not through his own job. Current ISA guidelines suggest for most cases – eg looking after exchange students – only the main contact in a household will need vetting. Huntley’s partner should have received a clean bill of health: Soham would have happened anyway.

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

More from The Register

next story
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.