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!!!