This morning The Sunday Times revealed the existence of a ‘secret database’ holding information on 8 million schoolchildren. Information which has been uploaded by schools and social workers, and ranging from photographs to academic records and records of bad behaviour in school.
The database – named 'One', and created and operated by a company
named Capita – allows schools to upload information daily, which
councils can then share with 'other agencies', such as youth offending teams,
NHS staff and charities.
If you think this all sounds a bit déjà-vu-ish, then you’d be right. Labour’s ContactPoint database – created in 2005 as a reaction to the Victoria Climbié case in an attempt to improve child protection and cost £224 million to set up – was run along very similar lines. The database was intended to store the details of 11 million children, but was shelved in 2010 by the coalition due to security issues. So what makes us think that this database is any more secure?
Perhaps more worrying than the fact that this database exists is the fact that parents are unaware of its existence, and unable to find out how the system works. Capita argue that the reason for this was because local authorities managed the data, adding that schools and councils take data protection rules ‘very seriously’.
Unfortunately the facts don’t support this statement. In July Islington Council managed to publish information concerning 2,500 residents online, while the Scottish Borders Council were fined £250,000 in September after employees’ pension records were dumped in a supermarket bin. Charities, Police forces and the NHS don’t have a much better record, as a brief trawl through the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website will show.
The ICO have said they will examine the legality of the database, but whether or not it complies with data protection laws, its existence highlights the level of government intrusion into personal information. Is it right that school photographs of a pupil, and his or her home address, is information which can seemingly be purchased by almost any number of ‘officials’? Or that a child who behaves badly in school – perhaps only once or twice – could then have that information kept on record indefinitely? Just remember – Big Brother is indeed watching you.