Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Children's index trials and no consent

Spy Blog has pointed out that the series of pilot schemes to test the proposed child information sharing index will be carried out without the informed consent of the data subjects i.e. the people whose details are being processed.

"Reading the Draft Information Sharing Index (England) Regulations 2006, the only "safeguard" appears to be a 3 year Data Retention period.

The Draft Statutory Instrument even re-emphasises that this enabling power can be used to disclose this information, to whoever the Government wants to, and such disclosures

may be made notwithstanding any rule of common law which prohibits or restricts the disclosure of information.

i.e. it deliberately overrides the Common Law duty of confidentiality

(3) Information disclosed under these Regulations, or information provided by a Secretary of State under section 12(9) of the Act, in respect of any person to whom arrangements specified in section 12(1) of the Act relate, may not be processed—

(a) to support measures or decisions with respect to that person; or

If the data is not being collected to "support measures or decisions with respect to that person", then why is it being collected centrally in the first place ?

(b) in such a way that substantial damage or substantial distress is, or is likely to be, caused to that person.

If the "damage or distress" is less than "substantial", then, according to this Draft Statutory Instrument, is it going to be permitted ?

In whose opinion is the "damage or distress" going to be judged as being "substantial" ... is to be collected on every child and their parents, not just those children who are somehow "at risk" or with special educational or health needs...

The dubiously enobled Lord Adonis (he went straight from being a Special Political Advisor to becoming a Lord and then a Minister) gave some unconvincing details about this scheme in the debate in House of Lords on 20th March 2006: Information Sharing Index (England) Regulations 2006

"The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked me whether the index satisfies the requirements of the Data Protection Act. We believe that it does. The full regulations and statutory guidance will clearly set out that all information on the index will be handled in a manner that is consistent with the Data Protection Act, and they will address issues of accuracy, retention, security and confidentiality."


Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I asked the Minister what access a parent will have to the index to check personal data.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have the answer to that question to hand, but I will let the noble Baroness know as soon as I can after the debate.

Note that Lord Adonis does not address the Data Protection Principle of informed consent.

These "data matching" trials are, according to an Explanatory Memorandum

"Department of Health, Department for Education and Skills, Department for Work and Pensions and nine local authorities in England."


"we have not considered it appropriate to conduct a public consultation."

So the parents and children who are going to be used as guinea pigs for this "data matching" trial are not even going to be told whether or not that their personal data has been handed over to the contractor, without their informed consent !"

It is at least worth asking the question as to why these proposals for a database to track every child and those officially connected with them have not received anything like the media attention associated with the ID card scheme. Especially since the government are making many of the same mistakes in relation to the design and deployment of this large information system as they are with the ID card scheme. I suspect it is largely because of the fear of ending up on the receiving end of empty but dangerous rhetoric of the "We're trying to protect children and you actually want to stop us doing that" variety.

If the vast majority of people in this country are decent, then the vast majority of children are not in a situation where they are at risk in the sense of needing child support services (though those who do pose a risk to children still need to be kept away from them). Supporting children at risk is therefore not a problem that lends itself to data mining of the type planned. As Bruce Schneier says of these kinds of issues "it's a needle in a haystack problem and throwing more hay on the pile doesn't make that problem any easier."

Improving communications between the various public services, like the police, schools, health and social services, that come into contact with children at risk is a very sensible goal. This grand plan for another big information system solution has lost sight of that basic idea.

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