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ContactPoint child database 'illegal', report claims

Date:23 MAR 2009

The first ever comprehensive map of Britain's 'Database State' today reveals how government officials struggle to control billions of records of personal details and calls for the immediate scrapping the ContactPoint database, which is to contain the data of 11 million children in England.

Database State examines every major public sector database in the UK and demonstrates how many multi-million pound IT projects either don't work, or have such serious safety or privacy problems that they are alienating the public and harming the vulnerable groups they are meant to support.

The report, published by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, charts the sheer scale and financial cost of data collection, the methods used to maintain and secure the data, and the treatment of critical issues such as consent.

According to the report, a quarter of all major public sector databases are fundamentally flawed and almost certainly illegal. The report says these should be scrapped or redesigned immediately.

The researchers found that children are amongst the 'most at risk' from Britain's 'Database State', with three of the largest databases set up to support and protect children failing to achieve their aims. The ContactPoint database is designed to contain the names, ages, addresses and information of all children under 18 as well as information about their parents, schools and medical records. Police will be able to use the database to find out whether a child has had contact with a Youth Offending Team or services such as drug rehabilitation. According to the report, this is deterring teenagers from accessing health advice.

A case study by the researchers gives an account of a single mother who was terrified that social services would take her child away if she talked to her GP about post-natal depression.

Report co-author Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University said: "Britain's database state has become a financial, ethical and administrative disaster which is penalising some of the most vulnerable members of our society. It also wastes billions of pounds a year and often damages service delivery rather than improving it.

"Too often, computerisation has been used as a substitute for public service reform rather than a means of enabling reform. Little thought is given to safety, privacy and value for money.

"There must be urgent and radical change in the public-sector database culture so that the state remains our servant, not our master, and becomes competent to deliver appropriate public services that genuinely support and protect the people who most need its help. That means we have got to develop systems that put people first."

The report calls for 11 of the 46 systems assessed, including ContactPoint, to be scrapped or redesigned immediately and for the right for citizens to access most public services anonymously.