Child protection database ‘will be used to prosecute young people’

August 26th, 2008

A flagship database intended to protect every child in the country will be used by police to hunt for evidence of crime in a “shocking” extension of its original purpose, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

ContactPoint will include the names, ages and addresses of all 11 million under-18s in England as well as information on their parents, GPs, schools and support services such as social workers.

The £224 million computer system was announced in the wake of the death of Victoria Climbié, who was abused and then murdered after a string of missed opportunities to intervene by the authorities, as a way to connect the different services dealing with children.

It has always been portrayed as a way for professionals to find out which other agencies are working with a particular child, to make their work easier and provide a better service for young people.

However, it has now emerged that police officers, council staff, head teachers, doctors and care workers will use the records to search for evidence of criminality and wrongdoing to help them launch prosecutions against those on the database – even long after they have reached adulthood.

It comes amid growing concern about the increasing criminalisation of Britain’s youth and the extent of the country’s surveillance society.

Only this week a report warned that teenagers were being dragged into the criminal justice system rather than being given an old-fashioned “ticking-off”, while it has also been disclosed that the DNA profiles of almost 40,000 innocent children are now being kept on the national database.

An estimated 330,000 people will have access to the data stored on ContactPoint, which is due to launch this autumn despite fears the Government’s poor record on data security will mean it puts children at risk from paedophiles.

The records will be updated until children turn 18 then kept in an archive for six years before being destroyed, meaning they can be accessed until a young person reaches 24. Those who have learning difficulties or who are in care will remain on the live system until they turn 25, so their archived records will be available into their 30s.

Little-noticed guidance published by the Government discloses that ContactPoint users can request administrators to give them archived data for a number of reasons, including “for the prevention or detection of crime” and “for the prosecution of offenders”.

The disclosure has led civil liberties campaigners to warn the entire database will be open for investigators to trawl for evidence that links young people to crime or anti-social behaviour.

ContactPoint will not include detailed case information on children, but will record if they have contact with a Youth Offending Team or “sensitive services” such as drug abuse workers, which critics say will mean it is obvious which young people have criminal records.

Investigators opening a ContactPoint file would be able to see at a glance where they had lived throughout their childhood, where they had gone to school, what contact they had with social services and who their parents or carers were, and use the information to link them to known gangs or areas of criminal or anti-social activity.

Baroness Miller, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman in the House of Lords, said: “This is truly shocking. It’s exactly the definition of a police state. The police will have the details of a whole generation for so-called crime prevention.

“It raises a lot of issues and we haven’t had a debate in Parliament about it.”

The proposed use of ContactPoint to collect evidence will raise further fears about the extent to which citizens are being spied on by the state.

Britain has more CCTV cameras than any other country, and its local authorities are increasingly using powers designed to prevent terrorism to spy on people suspected of petty crimes such as littering and failing to pick up dog mess. Ministers are also pressing ahead with a £20 billion scheme to issue all UK residents over the age of 16 with ID cards.

The launch of ContactPoint was delayed following the loss of data discs containing 25 million child benefit records by HM Revenue & Customs last year. A review of its security – which the Government refused to publish in full – found the risk of a data breach could never be eliminated.

Because of fears that certain children, including those of MPs and celebrities as well as abuse victims, will be at particular risk, a “shield function” has been created within ContactPoint to hide their addresses.

However, the new guidance states that this can be overridden if police or social workers deem it an emergency. One of the stated reasons why this may be carried out is “an investigation of a crime toward or by the child”, in a further confirmation of the intended uses of the database.

Prof Ross Anderson, an expert in security at Cambridge University, said: “This is yet another revelation about the database state that is shocking but not surprising.

“The police have always been able to look into whatever they want, but the information age changes the scale of that completely.”

Phil Booth, national co-ordinator for the civil liberties campaign group No2ID, added: “Parents should know that this is not for the protection of their children, it could be used to prosecute them. This is a serious step on from what little has been told to the public.”

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families insisted: “The purpose of ContactPoint is not crime detection, it is to help improve services to children, including safeguarding vulnerable children.

“To access ContactPoint for the purposes of prevention or detection of crime or for the prosecution of offenders, police would have to make a special request directly to the Secretary of State or Local Authority and make a case for disclosure.”

ContactPoint will be put into use by 17 councils in the North West in October and then rolled out across the country.



You were warned.

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