Privacy row erupts over child database
Plans for a government database holding personal details on ten million children could be illegal and will hand a ‘dangerous weapon’ to paedophiles, according to a report.
Ministers are spending £200million of taxpayers’ money to create a file on every child in England and Wales, detailing personal information on their health and education.
More than 400,000 civil servants and council workers will have access to the Children’s Index, which by the end of 2008 will link up with 2,000 databases currently run separately by doctors, schools and social services.
But the report by the Information Commissioner’s Office, an independent watchdog that reports to Parliament, warns that Labour’s plans will contravene data protection laws because parents will not be given a say over whether information on their children can be passed on.
The report, obtained by Channel 4’s 30 Minutes programme, says the index is unlawful because in some cases the Government has abused its powers by failing to gain proper consent from parents.
The report adds that the database could actually put more children in peril because any paedophile gaining access to the system would be able to find and contact the most vulnerable children in any community.
Assistant Information Commissioner Jonathan Bamford said: ‘I think people might be surprised by the extent of the information, and the reasons for keeping it. I think we’re getting to a stage where virtually every household that has a child in the UK, will have information held there.’
Ministers say that the index will contain only basic information, including name, address and date of birth, plus details of a child’s school, GP and whether they have a carer or social worker.
But those with access to the system would be able to use it as a means of seeking more detailed information on a child, including their health records or exam results.
The index was given the go-ahead in response to the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, who died because social services failed to talk to other agencies who could have spotted the torture and abuse she was suffering.
Cambridge professor Ross Anderson, one of the report’s authors, warned that the security of the system is suspect.
‘There are many people with evil intent who will try to use databases once they’re built,’ he said. ‘Paedophiles can use the database to find out which children in their neighbourhood are vulnerable and how. And where they live, if they’ve got access to the system. And I’m sure they’ll get it.’
A spokesman for the Department for Education, which is overseeing the plans, said: ‘There will be extremely strict controls around access to information.
No one other than practitioners, such as police, GPs, and social workers with criminal record bureau checks would be able to access any information. The database is all about protecting vulnerable young people from abuse.’
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