Saturday, October 27, 2007

No Answer to Privacy Problems

Baroness Walmsley in a recent debate in the House of Lords raised a number of pertinent points with regard to the privacy of children and families in the face of the establishment of the Contactpoint and eCAF databases. With regard to Contactpoint, she asked:

"Is the Minister aware that young people are very anxious about this database and believe that their privacy is being interfered with? I was at a meeting of young people yesterday; it is run by the all-party group and BT and is called Seen and Heard. One of the main issues raised was that, although those who know about the database are very concerned about it, many young people have no idea what it is all about. What are the Government going to do about that? One young person also told me that her boyfriend visited a school where the database was live and was shown it. She was concerned that security was very relaxed. It is vital that this system is available only to authorised users."

So much for all those government reassurances about security then and so much for the main stakeholders being happy about all this. Seems as if things are not panning out quite as the government would wish in this regard.

She raises another consequence of the database:

"Experience demonstrates that families seeking to keep under the radar will often not contact specialist services..."

Sadly her implied solution is to ensure that generic services do supply accurate information for ContactPoint , thereby rendering any attempt to maintain family privacy null and void, particularly since it is easy to imagine that families who do try to hide will probably find themselves on the eCAF database with every intimate corner of their lives on record and this simply for making the error of trying to keep below the radar.

She says of the eCAF database:

"I move seamlessly to my third concern—the new electronic common assessment framework. It is extraordinary that throughout the whole debate on the regulations for ContactPoint, the Government did not once mention their intention to create a second, parallel, national electronic database containing sensitive assessments of children seeking services. All our concerns about the security of ContactPoint are amplified in relation to eCAF. It is simply not possible to keep such a large database secure. It will have thousands of users, quite conceivably as many as ContactPoint. While arguments about the potential insecurity of ContactPoint have been countered with assertions from the Government that it will contain only minimal information, the same cannot be said about eCAF. It will contain detailed personal information about children seeking services and clear indications of their vulnerability. The Government have insisted that eCAF is a consent-based process, but my informants, Action on Rights for Children, have been contacted by several practitioners involved in the pilots, who tell them that consent to share eCAFs is not being sought and that families are being told that they will not be able to access services unless they agree to an eCAF. That is disgraceful."

Quite right. And what did Lord Adonis have to say by way of an answer?

This is what ARCH Blog had to say on the subject:

"And now here comes the fog: Lord Adonis replied by talking at length about Contactpoint (the other national database, formerly known as the Infomation Sharing Index, that acts as glorified directory of all children). He talked for so long, answering questions that hadn’t been asked, that - oh, whoops:

"I am almost out of time, so I will have to respond to many of the other points in writing. A number of concerns have been raised about eCAF, to which I will also respond in writing, as I think that some alarmism has been generated.

This tactic of defaulting to Contactpoint whenever awkward questions arise about any of the other databases must have been decided centrally. It’s a straight repeat of our exchange with
Beverley Hughes in the Telegraph letters page shortly after publication of the FIPR report to the ICO on children’s databases. "


Anonymous said...

I work on a government database project. I occasionally surf through people's highly intimate personal details for pleasure, and I'm sure many other people do this much more frequently.

Government databases of vulnerable children can clearly be used as target lists by abusers.

Carlotta said...

If you haven't done so, I wonder if you would consider contributing your evidence to the Action for the Rights of Children at:

where they are collecting evidence about the problems of the various databases.

I understand they are taking anonymous evidence since people are fearful of being critical.

Anonymous said...

Carlotta, are you trusting this person, which doesn't have the common decency not to have interest in other people's "highly intimate personal details", to do something on the behalf of the rights of your children?

Abusers have done fine without databases. They don't need them. They can follow a family while they are on holiday and wait for distraction, they can befriend neighbors, work at schools, register as childminders, etc.

I honestly don't see how databases would increase the risk that exists each time you trust a person to enter your family life.

Loss of privacy and indivual freedom is worrying, but I wouldn't use the vulnerable children argument to defend it.

What makes children vulnerable is how dependent they are on adults and lack of equality in rights.

The world seems to be steering in the opposite direction, it's making them more dependent and less equal, unfortunately.

Fiona said...

Thanks for this blog post, C. Baroness Walmsley is a bit dodgy for me, though because she wanted to change the law on home education ( H of L debates 17th and 30th October Education and Inspection Bill 2006 )

(Those just worked for me as links to Lords debates 17th and 30th Oct 2006 )

Doesn't mean Joan W isn't making good points about e-caf though

Love, Fiona

Wobblymoo said...

I think we are often very nosy in nature (humans that is). I can't see how some people will be able to resist looking at their neighbours and people they know even if it is through other people. You can just imagine, I can't look up this family because I know them but would you do it for me