Contact Point: Indies to “Grandstand”
Independent Alliance to debate Government database policy at South Tyneside Council
Well, in some respects I can understand where the political sympathies lie, and the general intention to think well of South Tyneside Council and its children’s services, but to bring a motion such as this to the full council is a wee bit frivolous and entirely outside of the remit of the council’s responsibilities.
The Contact Point database set up under the last government was bedevilled with problems and fears were expressed about its security and stability as long ago as August 2007 before it was being operated:
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ACDS) has written to officials outlining its “significant” concerns about the new system, called ContactPoint, The Times has learnt. Confusion over who is responsible for vetting users and policing the system “may allow a situation where an abuser could be able to access ContactPoint for illegitimate purposes with limited fear of any repercussions”, Richard Stiff, the chairman of the ADCS Information Systems and Technology Policy Committee, said….
“The enormous size of the database and the huge number of probable users inevitably increase the risks of accidental or inadvertent breaches of security, and of deliberate misuse of the data (eg, disclosure of an address with malign intent), which would be likely to bring the whole scheme into disrepute”, the Lords’ Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments concluded.
The database designed to hold the personal details of 11 million children in England can continue to hold this information until the “child” is 25 years old if they are care leavers or have learning disabilities, way beyond the “protection” called for by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. A large number of criticisms relating to invasion of the individual’s privacy have been expressed since Contact Point started operating prompting calls for the new government to scrap it completely. The legislation which allows officials to collate and use individuals private details where they have “any areas of concern” has been accused of using “function creep” as the state’s intrusions into private life through covert surveillance continued under New Labour.
Not long after its launch this year The Daily Telegraph carried a report criticising its security and stability:
Contactpoint, the £224 million computer system designed to protect young people, is a “frustrating” database and not “user friendly” for local authorities, internal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show….
One official, whose details were blacked out, reported to a supervisor: “It has been a frustrating time recently which recently culminated in a breach of the system.
“The system they are accessing is not stable, it took 15 minutes for John to get into it this morning.
“The process is not user friendly. Data is an issue locally, a lot of it doesn’t match up, especially addresses. There are also issues around what needs recording for each agency to get consistency.”
Such vulnerabilities in the system leave it open to abuse by those who it was designed to protect children from, and the report goes on to detail other security lapses and breeches which raise serious concerns about its usage.
However, my main issue here is not so much the national policy agenda for these “Big Brother databases”, but the role of our local council here in South Tyneside and the issues it should be debating as we attempt to ride out this recession and the effects of dealing with the structural budget deficit left by the last Labour government. Our local councillors ought to be debating local issues of concern to local people and leave the national policy agenda to the borough’s two Members of Parliament, that is after all, what we elected them to do. Surely the group of Independent Alliance councillors could have written to David Miliband and Stephen Hepburn expressing their concerns about Contact Point rather than tying up time at the full meeting of the borough council to allow certain members to “grandstand” their own policy positions. Unfortunately this is the type of “politics” that we have come to expect from this opposition grouping – lots of hot air and very little in the way of substance.
To substantiate that point can we remind them that :
The government is considering bringing back a version of the controversial Contact Point children’s database, just months after the original project was halted.
Tim Loughton, junior minister for children and families, admitted, “We are exploring the practicality of an alternative national signposting service which would help practitioners find out whether a colleague elsewhere is working, or has previously worked, with the same vulnerable child.”
He added, “The approach would particularly take account of the needs of children who move between local authority areas or who access services in more than one local authority.
“Social workers in particular, and potentially other key services like the police or accident and emergency departments, may need this information very quickly. Any new approach would seek to strengthen communication between these areas.”
Not much need for this debate then, South Tyneside Council doesn’t operate the database nor can it change, evolve, reinstate, or renew it, perhaps we can get back to more local issues such as the level of council tax, economic regeneration, planning, or local schools policy.