Experts criticise government child database plans


Experts criticise government child database plans

Bill Goodwin

Government proposals for a £224m database containing details of every child in the UK will divert scarce resources away from children and create a surveillance culture, according to a report published today by the information commissioner.

The report criticises government plans to create a Children’s Index – a network of databases which will hold information on every child from birth to age 18 – arguing it will waste millions of pounds and discriminate against children rather than helping them.

The report, written by the Foundation for Information Policy Research, a group of experts in information technology, law and child protection, also raises questions about the security of the index, which will be accessible to 400,000 civil servants.

The effect of the database could be counter-productive, it argues, leading to young people from difficult backgrounds being treated as potential delinquents, in what could effectively become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The authors accuse the agencies involved in creating the index of making a “cavalier interpretation” of data protection and privacy law.

The report concludes that proposals to collect details on the sexual activity of 16 to 18-year-olds are in breach of human rights laws.

It also condemns agencies that obtain personal data on young people by coercive means, by implying they will lose access to services if they do not consent to hand their data over, as acting unlawfully.

The experts conclude that the creation of the index, together with a proliferation of education and youth-justice systems, present a “serious regulatory challenge”.

“Because of the scope and complexity of the proposed collection of sensitive data, there is no doubt that data protection law (and human rights law) will be broken,” it says.

Jonathan Bamford, assistant information commissioner, said that the growth in information held about children needed to be looked at carefully.

“Just because technology means that things can be done with personal information, it does not always follow that they should be done. Public trust and confidence will be lost if there is excessive unwarranted intrusion into family life,” he said.

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