Creating a database of the 11million adults who work with children could ruin the lives of innocent people, the privacy watchdog warns today.
Richard Thomas, who is stepping down after more than six years as Britain’s first Information Commissioner, says he has serious concerns about the system being launched in October for the Independent Safeguarding Authority.
The ISA computer will contain detailed files on all the adults who work with children, whether professionally or as volunteers.
But it will not only record criminal convictions, but also any so-called soft intelligence on individuals – which could include unfounded allegations, rumours or gossip passed to the police or social services.
An official working for the ISA will then decide whether or not someone is fit to work with children – without the person knowing what he or she is accused of.
Mr Thomas said the database would contain ‘allegations, some rumour, some speculation’.
He added: ‘If (officials) start making wrong decisions or allows the data to get into the wrong hands the scope for damage to be done both to individuals and the system as a whole is quite considerable.’
Mr Thomas said the combination of treating rumours as relevant and the power to ban an individual from a job had the capacity to damage an innocent person in their ‘career, financially and socially’.
He wrote to the ISA’s boss last year about his concerns, but has yet to receive a reply addressing the issues.
The outgoing commissioner also criticised the creation of the ContactPoint database, which contains records on all 11million children in England.
He said it had similarities with the ISA system, in that both contained masses of material potentially irrelevant to the stated aim of protecting vulnerable children, and both were a ‘step too far’ for freedom.
ContactPoint contains files on every child, rather than just those who the authorities believe are at risk of abuse, to avoid ‘stigmatising’ the youngsters.
The ISA system could list only those adults known to be threats, but instead contains all people who could work with youngsters.
It is designed to build on the existing system of Criminal Records Bureau checks.
The CRB, which will provide intelligence to ISA, makes thousands of mistakes every year.
Mr Thomas continued: ‘Every child now from zero to 18 will be on ContactPoint.
‘We need to identify the children at risk. If that involves stigma, so be it.
‘We live in a free society. We value our freedoms. Sometimes it is a step too far if people err on the side of the collection of data for the sake of collecting data, rather than on the ones we need to watch.’
He said ContactPoint and the Government’s DNA database were examples of laws which Parliament had passed without fully realising the consequences or properly scrutinising them.
The commissioner said he was proud of the fact that freedom of information and privacy were now mainstream issues and concerns, rather than the preserve of the ‘nerdy’.
He also welcomed recent Government climbdowns over Big Brother intrusion, including the ditching of plans for a giant database of every internet click and telephone call made in the UK.
Mr Thomas said that while three years ago the UK has been sleepwalking into a surveillance society, it now had its ‘eyes open’ and the walk had slowed.
But he still has serious concerns about projects such as ID cards and the continued loss of sensitive personal data by both the public and private sectors.
Since the HMRC lost the details of 25million people little over a year ago, there have been 500 further significant data losses – two-thirds of them by the public sector.
The NHS is the worst offender.
Source and acknowledgement: Daily Mail