Shadow Schools Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed that the Tories will scrap ContactPoint – aka the Children’s Index – if they win the next election. Speaking to the Telegraph, he expressed his concern that ContactPoint, which will contain details of (almost) every child in the UK will be exploited by paedophiles. The project, which involves the likes of PA Consulting (recently rapped for losing a memory stick containing prisoner and repeat offender information), ‘can never be secure’ according to Gove.
Whilst the paedophile argument is, I suppose, legitimate, it smacks of pandering to the red-tops for a bit of a soundbite. However, the policy itself is sound, and in fact essential for the Conservatives if they are to maintain their continued opposition to the National Identity Scheme.
My fears about ContactPoint stem from the incredible potential for function creep. The government has already said that it will be used to ‘track criminals’, so it’s only a matter of time before its usage extends far beyond the protection of chiildren. After all, councils are at pains to emphasise that it won’t record fruit and vegetable consumption – which can only mean that this has been given serious consideration at some point. Good grief.
Furthermore, how can data be kept secure on a system with an expected 300,000 authorised users? Well, it can’t. Plain and simple. And that’s why the policy is that it won’t contain the contact details for children of celebrities and political figures. That’s OK then, since the rest of us are so much less important and our details simply aren’t worth having.
I understand that the ContactPoint team have been to great pains to ensure that they comply with the Data Protection Act, and I’ve heard representatives from the Information Commissioner’s Office confirm this. But it’s a classic example of the Data Protection Act being used as the maximum target for what needs to be achieved, rather than the minimum needs for protecting privacy. This is the DPA as an annoying compliance hurdle rather than something to be embraced and respected. And that needs to change.