Monthly Archives: September 2008

Child and data protection

Government IT cock ups (over budget, under specified, not working) are a perennial at the moment. The latest concerns ContactPoint, a database for the handling of information about all children in the UK. Its main aim is to let professionals that deal with children (teachers, social workers, GPs and so on) to know who else has been dealing with a particular ‘case’. That way, it’s hoped, the Victoria Climbie death won’t be repeated: if, let’s say, a teacher spots evidence of a problem, whether it be health or abuse or whatever, they can check to see if anyone is dealing with it, instead of assuming that social services or the GP is handling it.

Now the problem with all this data sharing for child protection is that it goes against data protection principles. If people can look up data to do good, they can look up data to do bad things too. Apparently the contractors are now trying to put in place ‘shielding’, so that the address of the child isn’t visible if that is requested by the local authority with the case. The database is delayed.

Of course, many of the kids who are vulnerable aren’t even known to the authorities, never mind the local council, so it will end up shutting stable doors after the horses have bolted. More importantly, this data is leaking all over the place, and I don’t just mean due to lost laptops, memory sticks and CDs.

Stupidly, the government allows everyone to search through all kinds of personal data. I’ve recently found out about genealogy databases. If you want to search for a person (including children), you can subscribe to one of the many websites that collates births, deaths and marriages data from the registry, and publishes them online. Ancestry has everything up to 2005, but I’m sure I’ve seen sites with more recent data. If you know the town someone lives in you can look at the electoral register, and the edited version of this is online too. Then there are all the other commercial databases (Experian and the like), that can be searched once you know someone’s name and address.

Then it seems possible to order birth, death and marriage certificates on line, if you know the full details (which you found out at Ancestry). This makes identity theft really easy. Mmm. They’ve thought about data protection and then created policies that have so many holes the protection is non-existent (see here). Only the state can make copies of the certificates, but anyone can ask for them with the flimsiest of reasons (genealogy research, record keeping!). As long as you promise not to use it for fraud or to break the copyright!!!

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White terrorists

A bit of an absurd sentence in a Guardian news item on the ‘Gordon Brown’ assassination plot (see here). Unfortunately the writer’s (or the sub-editor’s, maybe) lack of history or context, and an obsession with Islamist terrorism, leads to this:

He is not the first white person arrested for an alleged terrorism offence.

Obviously they should add ‘connected with the current al-Qaida inspired terrorism’ but the assumption is that al-Qaida inspired terrorism is the only terrorism that ever existed.

Of course, he’s not the first white person arrested for an alleged terrorism offence. In the 70s there were hundreds of white-Irish people arrested and some executed by the security services, and as well as this there were anarchist/leftist terrorists (such as the Angry Brigade). It’s like the IRA never existed or the world started in September 2001.

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Help for homeowners: the Daily Mail spin

You’ve got to love the Daily Mail spin on today’s announcement for helping home buyers (not homeowners as they say).

Only families on earnings below £60,000 will qualify, however, making it unsuitable for many Londoners needing higher incomes to meet sky-high prices. (my emphasis)

Well yes, it’s true that you need a big income to buy a house in London. That’s why most people on a normal income buy flats and smaller properties, or, more likely, rent. Just because the average house price in London is £375,000 or thereabouts, doesn’t mean that’s what first-time buyers are going for. A young family with low earnings will be looking for a flat in a new build, at considerably less.

The use of the word ‘only’ implies that the majority of those looking for homes in London won’t qualify. But using last year’s figures 85% (that’s eighty five percent) of London households earn less than £60k. This will have come down a bit through wage inflation, but it does mean that the vast majority will qualify. It might be unsuitable because it won’t help them earn enough. Perhaps the Daily Mail would be in favour of reducing income inequality by increasing the wages of the working class.

It reminds me of the story the other week of the bankers who thought that it took £162,000 to be in the top 10% of earnings. Actually, it’s £40,000. They have no idea that 90% of workers in the UK earn less than £40k.

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