Recent ContactPoint Articles

Why is Jenni Russell praising Cameron Come Lately?

by James Graham     September 16, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Jenni Russell has written an article attacking ContactPoint, the much maligned national children’s database that the government are still insisting on trotting out. The only problem is, she has written it as a piece of Tory hagiography.

We might be able to let her off the title – Another invasion of liberty. And only the Tories are alert – as a bit of subbing hyperbole. I’ve written enough articles for newspapers over the years to know this happens. But she can’t blame the sub for the final paragraph:

Labour will not reverse this; only the Tories might. They promise to review CAF database, ditch ContactPoint for a small, targeted database, and invest in strengthening people’s relationships instead. It’s depressing that Labour supporters who believe in liberties, privacy and humanity should find themselves having to cheer the Tories on this issue.

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Report: Govt has lost control of database state

by Newswire     March 23, 2009 at 6:23 am

A quarter of all databases are fundamentally flawed and must be scapped, says a landmark study out today.

The first ever comprehensive map of Britain’s database state today reveals how the database obsession of government has left officials struggling to control billions of records of our most personal details and almost every contact we have with the agencies set up to serve and protect us.
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Against ContactPoint: To Be Continued

by Dave Hill     December 22, 2007 at 2:05 pm

Before I become blissfully chained to my sumptuous new cooker for at least the next ten days, a quick update on ContactPoint (the “children’s index”) and related “database state” issues. I’ve written here (and here and here) about this forthcoming information sharing e-system and why I – and others – fear it may have the opposite effect to that the government desires

In theory, ContactPoint will enable public sector professionals to better anticipate when children are at risk of harm and to respond in a more coordinated way when intervention is required. In practice, say its critics, such professionals will spend an awful lot of time at computer terminals following false trails of misleading information while the fear of breach of privacy – of up to around 300 people they’ve never met “knowing their business” online – will deter the very children and families most in need of help from seeking or accepting it

In my last piece on this subject for Liberal Conspiracy I reported that ministers might be adjusting their sales pitch for ContactPoint, replacing vaguely shroud-waving references to the Victoria Climbie tragedy with less emotive talk of general practitioner efficiency. However, during her damage limitation exercise over the latest disappearing data embarrassment – those British learner drivers’ details that got lost across the pond – Ruth Kelly directly invoked Climbie when appearing on Newsnight (thank you, ARCH blog) and I heard her on Five Live asserting that the public would rightly be appalled if information wasn’t shared in relation to child protection.

Well, her last point is indisputable taken in isolation: of course relevant child welfare professionals working on the same case need to know what each other are doing. But, whatever the top brass of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services claim, a national database of dubious reliability and questionable security, compulsorily compiled and run by local authorities without parental consent being required seems precisely the wrong way of going about it.

How can we best mobilise opinion against ContactPoint? It seems to me that simply howling “Big Brother” isn’t enough. We need to show that e-government in all its form risks creating greater dangers to individuals and to society than it prevents. ContactPoint is a good example of this, and I urge readers to join the Facebook group I’ve formed to oppose it. Lobby your MP too, and lend your support to Annette Brookes MP, the Liberal Democrats’ spokesperson on children’s issues.

But let’s look at the wider picture as well. Guardian technology correspondent Michael Cross has recently argued for a far more open and political debate about e-government, taking in everything from ID cards to NHS records. He rightly observes that the public has been given no clear idea about the growth of e-government, how best to make it work and what its true implications might be. One of my New Year resolutions will be to encourage that debate in 2008. Maybe it will be one of yours too.

Against ContactPoint: Latest

by Dave Hill     December 5, 2007 at 2:40 pm

The 10 Downing Street petition against the planned database on children – which I wrote about here on Monday – now has over 1,000 names. It’s open until 20th December. Sign now and while you’re in fighting mood urge your MP to sign the Early Day Motion of Annette Brooke MP, Lib Dem spokesperson on children, asking the government to “reconsider its decision to proceed” with the scheme. You could raise the matter with your local schoolteachers too.

I’ve had an indication that the government may be adjusting its defence of ContactPoint. A correspondent tells me of a colleague who wrote to Ed Balls mentioning the invoking by ministers of the Victoria Climbie case as the primary reason for the database being set up. Beverley Hughes has been especially quick to do this as a way of countering critics. I’m told Balls’s reply included the following;

“In your letter, you assert the Government is introducing ContactPoint chiefly to prevent another terrible case like that of Victoria Climbie. This is not the case. The chief purpose of ContactPoint is to improve the efficiency of children’s services by freeing up practitioner time.”

My correspondent remarks that offering bureaucratic convenience as justification for reducing family privacy is unacceptable. Agreed. The same source also remarks:

“The government comments fail to mention that if you want to know a child’s GP school, etc YOU CAN ASK THE CHILD OR PARENT. They keep talking as if there were no other route than IT. It’s worth reminding people that the old fashioned low-tech solution of being polite and asking is still a viable option. Some LAs [local authorities] report [during pilot schemes] that users don’t know who they are in contact with. We should not ask families to give up privacy to compensate for incompetent professional practice.”

Agreed again. ContactPoint is a dud. And I haven’t even mentioned E-Caf yet.
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Dump The ContactPoint Database

by Dave Hill     December 3, 2007 at 5:53 pm

ContactPoint is a government database-in-waiting. It is bad news for all eleven million children in England and their families, especially those in need of public service professionals’ help or protection. Formerly known as the Information Sharing Index and (colloquially) “the Children’s Index”, it is officially described as, “The quick way for a practitioner to find out who else is working with the same child or young person making it easier to deliver more coordinated support.” Others see it differently. Far from being a “basic online directory” helping teachers, social workers, doctors, youth offending teams and others keep in touch more efficiently, they believe that the very existence of ContactPoint risks making it not more but less likely that children in danger of neglect or abuse will get the support they need.

Why? A group comprising experts in child protection, children’s rights and IT security produced a report for the Information Commissioner. The core of their case against ContactPoint and other databases for the logging of information about kids is that such screening and sharing of social indicators – family circumstances, health records, school performance etc – is an unreliable predictor of children being “at risk” of harm or engaging in antisocial behaviour. What’s more, it might generate self-fulfilling prophecies by putting poorer children and their families under unwarranted scrutiny. Also, it is likely to work against creating the bonds of trust that are so vital if effective help is to be accepted by and given to those who genuinely need it. They also doubt that ContactPoint would be secure – an argument likely to carry greater force in view of recent cases of discs disappearing from HMRC and the DWP.

Last week I wrote here that campaigns against erosions of civil liberties are more likely to gain widespread support if connections are made between every day “common good” issues and the principle of protecting the citizen from state intrusion. It’s not enough to be affronted by government “nannying” or to mutter darkly about Big Brother. We need to show that the database state and other curbs on privacy and freedom do more harm – possibly serious harm – than good. ContactPoint is a clear example of this. At best the system will result in professionals whose job it is to keep vulnerable children and families safe spending more and more time chasing false leads on computer screens. At worst, it will damage those most in need.

My slightly longer piece on this subject appeared on Cif last week and I wrote about it in detail about a year ago (the latter is now slightly out of date, but the key arguments still hold). The good news is that a review into ContactPoint’s security has been ordered, enabling the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to ask more fundamental questions about the scheme. I think it’s a dud. If you agree, sign this Downing Street petition and spread the word.

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