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IT systems designed to protect kids will put them at risk instead
RELEASE TIME: 00.01, 22 November 2006
New government policies designed to safeguard children could put them at increased risk by diverting resources and creating a surveillance culture where parents are sidelined, according to a report published today by the Information Commissioner.
The report, 'Children's Databases: Safety and Privacy', analyses the databases being built to collate information on children in education, youth justice, health, social work and elsewhere. These systems are linking up through the new Information Sharing Index.
The government hopes that sharing information on children will improve child welfare in the UK and reduce the incidence of serious child abuse such as in the Climbi ase.
However, the report's authors point out that extending Britain's child protection systems -- from the 50,000 children at substantial risk of serious harm to the 3-4 million children with some health, education or other welfare issue -- means that child protection will receive less attention.
They also conclude that the systems will intrude so much into privacy and family life that they will violate data protection law and human rights law.
They list five main concerns with the current policy:
Dr Eileen Munro, of the London School of Economics said: "When dealing with child abuse, we do need to override privacy. But the new policy extends this level of intrusion into families that are not even suspected of abusing their children, and to all concerns about children's development. It will also over-stretch scarce resources, damage parents' confidence and divert services from focussing on real cases of abuse."
Director of Action on Rights for Children Terri Dowty said: "Offering services that support families is highly desirable, but you need to listen to parents and children in order to understand their problems. As it is, the Government proposes to take the child protection system and apply it to all aspects of children's health and welfare needs, when the system doesn't have the needed resources anyway. We also don't want a surveillance system that forces professionals to be defensive and suspicious, and make clumsy risk assessments."
Professor Douwe Korff, of London Metropolitan University, added: "The proposed surveillance system is contrary to the basic principles of data protection and human rights law. It replaces professional discretion (in both meanings of the word) with computerised assessments of human behaviour that are inherently fallible. The system violates private and family life and intrudes on children's rights without justification. The Government's aims are laudable -- but this is not the way to go about achieving them."
Professor Ross Anderson, of Cambridge University, said: "When building systems that process personal information, you can have scale, or functionality, or security. You can even have any two of these -- but you can't have all three. If we're to have secure and functional child- protection systems, they will have to be local rather than central."
To read the full report, see http://www.fipr.org/childrens_databases.pdf
Notes to Editors:
For further information, please contact:
Professor Ross Anderson, University of Cambridge, Mobile: +44 (0) 791 904 8248; office: +44 (0) 1223 33 47 33
Terri Dowty, Director, Action on Rights for Children, Mobile: +44 (0) 792 960 7219; office: +44 (0) 20 8558 9317
Dr Richard Clayton, University of Cambridge, Mobile: +44 (0) 788 779 4090; office: +44 (0) 1223 763570
Professor Douwe Korff, London Metropolitan University, Mobile: +44 (0) 781 881 7823; office: +44 (0) 20 713 35010
Dr Eileen Munro, London School of Economics, Mobile: +44 (0) 781 679 0213; office: +44 (0) 20 7955 7349
Dr Ian Brown, UCL, Mobile: +44 (0) 7970 164 526
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