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Databases and the security of information relating to children

This week we learned that confidential data on children, which had been entrusted to a Government department , had been downloaded to disc and that the discs had “ gone missing”.

There could be long term consequences for children.

Children whose personal data has gone missing could be at risk of identity fraud for many years, credit reference agency Experian has warned. Children aged 15 to 17 whose names, addresses and dates of birth were among the lost data are at risk from determined fraudsters prepared to wait for lengthy periods before using the data, Experian said.

"The fraudsters will wait until they turn 18 and start applying for loans, credit cards, mobile phone contracts and other credit products in their names," Ms Lord suggested.

The loss of 25 million child benefit records from HM Revenue and Customs was said, initially, to be due to a junior member of staff breaking the rules.

By Saturday government were having to admit that 6 more discs “ are missing”

There has been lots of coverage of these events and some have used the opportunity to once again question the introduction of identity cards. We are told that biometric information would add another layer of security to the data here making personal information more secure. Here's a view on that, again there is reliance on a secure database.

What the MPs and media seem to have been much slower to link this week's news to is the setting up of ContactPoint and the more recently announced, linked eCAF database.

You can read more about these new databases for children and young people on the ARCH website.

Here is an account of a recent debate in Parliament, recorded in Hansard.

Baroness Walmsley:

"I move seamlessly to my third concern—the new electronic common assessment framework. It is extraordinary that throughout the whole debate on the regulations for ContactPoint, the Government did not once mention their intention to create a second, parallel, national electronic database containing sensitive assessments of children seeking services. All our concerns about the security of ContactPoint are amplified in relation to eCAF. It is simply not possible to keep such a large database secure. It will have thousands of users, quite conceivably as many as ContactPoint. While arguments about the potential insecurity of ContactPoint have been countered with assertions from the Government that it will contain only minimal information, the same cannot be said about eCAF. It will contain detailed personal information about children seeking services and clear indications of their vulnerability. The Government have insisted that eCAF is a consent-based process, but my informants, Action on Rights for Children, have been contacted by several practitioners involved in the pilots, who tell them that consent to share eCAFs is not being sought and that families are being told that they will not be able to access services unless they agree to an eCAF. That is disgraceful."
On the 20th November a report was published by the Office of the Children's Rights Director for England (OCRD). It found that safety and confidentiality are the main issues for children and young people when asked for their views on the Government proposed rules for running the new database. Dr Roger Morgan, Children's Rights Director for England, said:
"The children have told me that they are concerned about the safety of ContactPoint. Children want to be assured that their information will remain safe and confidential and have asked specifically that the government will never in the future put a child's photograph or telephone number on the database.”
Contact Point, eCAF and the “children missing education “ legislation could have a major impact on the home education community in 2008.

So what can we do to help?

Anyone concerned about the security of this personal information on the new databases might think this was a good time to write to their MP raising their concerns. You can find more information about lobbying MPs on the website here.

Food for Thought:
Home Education for Teenagers

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