The UK government have been at it again. Instead of engaging with the constructive criticism of their mass surveillance approach to child safety contained in the FIPR report for the Information Commissioner, Children's Minister, Beverley Hughes, decided to attack the report with vague claims of factual inaccuracies, in a letter to the Telegraph on Friday. The report authors have now replied and I hope they don't mind me quoting them in full:
"Sir – Beverley Hughes, the Minister for Children (Letters, November 24), does a disservice to families by an evasive response to our report to the Information Commissioner on the range of databases being set up to monitor children.
She makes a vague claim that the report contains factual inaccuracies, but she does not mention that the chapters on the different databases were sent to her department for checking before publication.
She also suggests that it is not based on evidence, when there is extensive evidence in the report drawn from government publications and interviews with senior officials and practitioners.
The Minister's response misleads by referring only to the Information Sharing Index. This is just the hub of several more detailed databases that will contain highly personal and often subjective information on children and their parents. Moreover, the index will reveal which children are known to other databases and hence provide sensitive information (such as attendance at a special school) to any viewer.
The Information Commissioner has called for a debate on the challenges this policy is posing to traditional family life. The Minister for Children should not duck this challenge. Trying to smear us is not an adequate response.
Dr Eileen Munro, London School of Economics
Professor Ross Anderson, Cambridge University
Dr Ian Brown, University College London
Dr Richard Clayton, Cambridge University
Terri Dowty, Action on Rights for Children
Professor Douwe Korff, London Metropolitan University"
Ms Hughes, by the way, was the Immigration Minister forced to resign in 2004 for making misleading statements about suspected visa fraud. According to the BBC at the time,
"The Tories had accused the Home Office of approving visa claims from eastern Europe despite warnings they were backed by forged documents.
Ms Hughes had dismissed calls to quit, saying she had not known of the claims.
But No 10 said it was now clear she was warned about it a year ago, by Labour deputy chief whip Bob Ainsworth."