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How secure will our children's details be on the Information Sharing Index?

In February 2007 the Nationwide Building Society was ordered to pay 980,000 for poor information controls following the theft of a laptop computer. Philip Williamson, Nationwide's chief executive said, "We have extensive security procedures in place, but in this isolated incident our systems of control were found wanting."

More information here.

All of which might lead us to once again to wonder just how secure the database being developed at present by the Government might be.

Ministerial Statement and Timetable

On 8th December 2005 Ruth Kelly announced the Government's implementation of the Information Sharing Index. You can read the full text here. It is anticipated that the system will be up and running everywhere by the end of 2008.

This Index will hold:

"minimal identifying information for each child; name, address, date of birth, gender, and contact details for parents or carers. Each child will also have a unique identifying number. In almost all cases this will be a scrambled version of their Child Reference Number (which all children are allocated when a claim for child benefit is made); contact details for their educational setting and GP practice and for other practitioners or services working with them; and where a practitioner judges it appropriate and necessary, an indicator showing that they wished to be contacted by other practitioners because they have relevant information to share, are taking action, or have undertaken an assessment in relation to that child."
Education Otherwise responded to the public consultation in 2006. Our response can be found here.

It is estimated the system will be accessed by an estimated 500,000 practitioners. The Information Commissioner outlined his concerns in November 2006.

The Minister said the Project Team at the DfES will directly and actively seek the views of children, young people and families and will ensure those views are taken into account as we develop the index.

You may wish to make your MP or the project team at the DfES aware of any concern you may have.

In Sheffield we are meeting with the Local Authority for a briefing on this matter. Sheffield was one of the "Trailblazer" authorities piloting the scheme.

The rich and famous can ask to have their children's details excluded. We are investigating whether we might have the same rights for our children.

There has been a big and successful campaign to opt out of the NHS Common Spine computer database because of similar concerns about security.

Being Heard

Two letters, from Campaign Team member Fiona Nicholson, have been published in the Guardian over this issue:

Letters to the Guardian, Tuesday 2nd January 2007

Index is unworkable

I was interested to read that Shane Roberts's mother welcomes the Information Sharing Index (Is sharing caring? December 12). I can see that in a small-scale pilot project there may be short-term gains. However, as a parent I would not welcome the ISI in any shape or form.

I live in Sheffield, which has also been a pilot project area. Many reservations have been expressed on the ground in Sheffield and elsewhere with regard to handing over children's personal details to half a million registered users. Many parents have no confidence that this data will be objective.

In addition, the financial and logistical implications for 150 local authorities will be immense and this will have a direct impact on services. The database cannot possibly be secured against misuse and hacking. This is why the details of celebrities' children may be kept off the records; the remaining 11 million children are deemed safe. I am exceedingly sceptical of Beverley Hughes's positive spin on the database. I and many parents consider it unworkable and unsafe.

Fiona Nicholson,
Sheffield

Letters to the Guardian, Friday 2nd March, 2007

Liz Davies is correct to see the children's database as a surveillance tool. Catherine Ashton said in the Lords on May 24 2004: "I would not say that he [Lord Laming] was the author of the proposal for databases but that has been part of our discussions with him in trying to implement effectively what should be done." The agenda had been decided in advance of Laming's report.

In December, Education Otherwise, the home education support charity, submitted a response to the DfES on the information sharing index. Parents are being told the database is necessary to protect children, yet IT professionals say the database cannot be made safe from abuse. Frontline staff working to protect vulnerable children have also expressed disbelief that investing hundreds of millions in IT can be the best way to safeguard children. The government's own information commissioner has issued a detailed report advising extreme caution in proceeding with the database. The child protection register is being abolished and money diverted into unwieldy computer systems. Local authorities are advising government that they will be unable to meet many of the deadlines. The conceptual framework for the information sharing index did not take account of the divergent IT systems in our local authorities. The thought that half a million practitioners in health, education, social services, youth work and IT might have access to detailed information about the nation's children is a cause of grave concern to thousands of home-educating parents.

Fiona Nicholson
Education Otherwise, Sheffield


Food for Thought:
Home Education for Teenagers

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The DCSF thinks school is the best place for children.
Here at Education Otherwise Campaign Website,
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