Kids’ databases

The Information Commissioner has just published a report we wrote for him on the UK Government’s plans to link up most of the public-sector databases that contain information on children. We’re concerned that aggregating this data will be both unsafe and illegal. Our report has got coverage in the Guardian, the Telegraph (with a leader), the Daily Mail, the BBC and the Evening Standard.

14 thoughts on “Kids’ databases

  1. I see that there are very important concerns regarding the practicalities of aggregating public-sector databases containing kids’ info – in terms of security, safety and legality. But equally there are imporant concerns about how to protect our children and facilitate swift enquiries when they are genuine, legal and necessary for a child’s safety and welfare. How can the two be reconciled?

    I’m no expert, but one of the ‘headline’ issues that the aggregated and central database was supposed to solve was the “misspelling of names” problem – e.g. in the high profile case of Victoria ClimbiĆ©, her name was spelt in several different ways on different files, and hence one of the reasons for the failure to spot a pattern of problems was the inability to correlate those files. Of course the problem could just come up again in the aggregation process – but theoretically the idea was that once the central database was in place, a single lookup on a child would go back to the single database key?

    That’s just a particular issue I’ve heard about, I know that might not be the main point or even the main way in which a central database would help child protection, but my general question remains – if the current plans may not secure or completely legal, is there a better alternative to the status quo?

    (sincere apologies in advance if this is detailed in the report linked to in the original post, I have only had time to skim over some of the press reports and not the full report – but I thought perhaps it would be helpful to anyone else who is passing by this blog and hasn’t time to get the salient points of what alternatives there are, if any)

  2. One of the things that concern my about these databases is the “Sins of the Father” get visited on the children (even if he has no contact etc).

    One plan the Home Office did have was to catogrise children before birth as being “likley to offend” etc which strikes me as beliving in a “pre-ordained universe” by officials.

    Likewise teachers with no real formal training or control can enter suposed “facts” about a childs home life which again gets used on a points scoring system. Aparently the points are all negative, so get one as a child and you are on a slipery slope to “no life oportunities” (as aparently schools will be able to reject aplicants with points, and as is comon in life mud not only sticks it accumulates) .

    How long before your child automaticaly gets sent to a school for pre-offenders simply because of misguided or malicious behaviour by those in authority?

    I might sound like I am ranting a bit, but having suffered at the hands of an extreamly biased Headmaster (who hated my mother when she was his boss) I know abuses can and will happen.

  3. It seems to me that the government works in the same way as Microsoft. They come up with great ideas which could work well but which are open to all sorts of abuse from those who are malicious in one way or another. This is just another example albeit possibly not quite as fatally flawed as the ID card trainwreck…

  4. The minister responsible for the databases, Beverly Hughes, tried to smear us in Friday’s Telegraph. We made a robust response in Saturday’s. It’s a shame that British politicians now by reflex use ad-hominem arguments when criticised, especially when the criticism is backed by evidence, and especially when it comes from experts. The civil service no longer has the bottle to ‘speak truth unto power’; it seems that anyone who tries to is considered mad or bad. I understand that there will be an article on this in next week’s Times Higher Educational Supplement.

  5. @Ross,

    “Beverly Hughes, tried to smear us in”

    There might be a financial reason for this…

    If you have been to any Labour Party confs etc you would notice just how much is funded one way or another by the various technology companies biding for the work on these ICT systems.

    You might just be trying to shoot Tony’s “golden goose”.

  6. The mis-spelling of names, mentioned above in at least one high-profile case, will be a problem that will remain an endemic probelm to any national databases that the UK Government and all its departments hold. This is because 80% of the workers in the Government, including policemen, firemen (yes, i use the old term, and damnation to bloody PC), municipal workers, and Governemt workers are under-educated, lazy, unmotivated and generally lacking in any good practices that ask them to be careful about the data they enter or handle. This is true. The only solution, in my expert opinion as an IT Consultant, is to abolish any electronic databases, and go back to the old pen-and-paper records.

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