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Celebrity children will get database privacy

Sarah Womack / London Telegraph | August 31 2006

Children of celebrities will be given special safeguards in a new database that will store details of every child in England and Wales, it was disclosed yesterday.

Ministers said the contentious two-tier level of privacy will protect children of the rich and famous from intrusion.

Addresses and telephone numbers of celebrities will be removed from the database if, for example, their children are deemed at risk of kidnap.

But opponents of the £241 million Children's Index — a supposedly confidential system intended as an early warning system for children at risk of abuse — said the move underlined their concerns about its security.

In further embarrassment to the Government, an independent report commissioned by Parliament's Information Commissioner and due to be published next month, is understood to warn that the index is causing serious concern and is possibly unlawful.

There are fears that it does not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and may contravene the Data Protection Act.

The database, to be introduced in 2008, follows the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie in 2000 as a result of abuse by her great aunt.

Police, doctors and social workers had contact with Victoria as she suffered 128 injuries, but failed to discuss the case with one another.

Files are held by many bodies on the 11 million children in England and Wales, but the index will link this sensitive information in one database accessible to hundreds of thousands of officials.

Schools, doctors, the police and private-sector bodies will alert the system to such warning signals as low birth weight, poor exam results and a parent's depression or addiction. Two warning "flags" on a child's record may trigger an investigation.

Lord Adonis, the education minister, told the House of Lords: "Between 300,000 and 400,000 users will access the index. Children who have a reason for not being traced, for example where there is a threat of domestic violence or where the child has a celebrity status, will be able to have their details concealed."

Robert Whelan, the deputy director of the think-tank Civitas, said Lord Adonis's remarks showed there were legitimate concerns about the security of the index.

"The Government is showing it has no confidence in this database," he said.

"There have been all these assurances it is secure, but how can we believe them now? I will tell you who will be off the register — the Blairs' children. This is just politicians protecting their own.

"And how is the Government going to define celebrity? It is a very fluid term — an assembly of high-profile clergy, disgraced politicians, topless models, pop singers and reality TV contestants."

An Education Department spokesman said: "Lord Adonis was making a general statement that children of violent parents, while their name will still be on the register, may have their address removed, or a child of a parent with celebrity status will have their address removed. The police may decide it is appropriate.

"There will be extremely strict controls. No one other than practitioners will be able to access any information which will be minimal and is about allowing practitioners to make contact with each other when necessary."

But, in an interview for tomorrow's Channel 4 programme Your Kids Under Surveillance, Prof Ross Anderson, an author of the report sent to the Information Commissioner, expressed concern about security.

"There will always be bent insiders. If you connect all these systems up and if you've got over a million professionals needing to access this every day it will all get out.

"Paedophiles for example can use the database to find out which children in their neighbourhood are vulnerable and where they live."

Jonathan Bamford, the Assistant Information Commissioner, said the report he received was on children's databases generally, not just the index, but some famous people's details could be excluded "if a child is subject to real risk or harm".

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