Tag Archives: database state

Safeguarding Should Act Both Ways

Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club looks at the Home Office guidance for the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA):

the case worker will examine the individual’s ‘predisposing factors’, such as ‘those factors relating to an individual’s interests or drives’; ‘cognitive factors’, such as ‘strong anti-social beliefs’; and ‘behavioural factors’, including ‘using substances or sex to cope with stress or impulsive, chaotic or unstable lifestyle’. Drug use, sex life, favourite films… it all gets thrown into the mix.

The appendix of the Home Office’s guidance document elaborates on the ‘risk assessment models’ that case workers will use to reach a final decision on whether somebody should be barred from their job. The aim of this process, it says, it to make decisions ‘in relation to standardised points of reference that minimise subjective decision-making’.

The risk assessment model starts by identifying a series of possible ‘hazards’, which may come about as a result of a person taking a job/volunteering position, and listing them in a table. It gives the examples of ‘inappropriate physical contact with a 12- to 16-year-old pupil during a lesson’, ‘building a relationship which is exploited out of school resulting in underage sex’, and ‘taking photos of 12- to 16-year-old pupils (eg, during swimming lessons)’. Once they have identified the hazards, the case worker will give each a figure from one to five for the impact it would have on a child (in the examples above, it gives these hazards the figures of four, five and two). Then, they will give it a figure between one and five for the likelihood that the event will occur.

Once they have these two figures for each hazard, they will transfer the figures to ‘a matrix’, which seems to involve basically plotting them on a graph. So for each individual they are considering barring, they will end up with a graph with a series of dots on it: ‘The risk matrix gives a picture of the risk assigned to each hazard as a result of the likelihood and impact assessments.’ Then – somehow, it doesn’t exactly specify how – the ISA is supposed to be able to tell from this graph whether the person is a risk or not, and whether they should be barred.

Surely noone can agree this is anything other than completely insane. Any rational person should look at this and acknowledge that on a moral standpoint using society’s predisposition for predictability, standardisation and methods of control is a step too far in such a sensitive area. For a bureaucracy which one commentator believes is necessary because existing child protection agencies and policies are incompetent (rather than managing or reforming them) to make its rulings based on such guidance, such criteria and meaningless data should surely be abhorrent. The case workers won’t have any involvement in the lives or cases of those people people submitted to them for vetting, instead they will (already in many cases) destroy lives based on the appalling ‘guidance’ you see above. This is not the way to protect anyone, it won’t be able to identify abuse – after all how could the equivalent of a bean counter possibly do the work of a social worker? Yet here we are, abusing and endangering innocent adults at the altar of ‘child protection’.

The Independent Safeguarding Authority must be abolished.

(via James, with thanks)

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It’s About More Than Damian Green

As I mentioned last year, following the victory of the S and Marper case against the British government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Home Office became obliged to remove innocent people from the National DNA Database. Not only then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith showed a lack of interest in doing so, but then this month the for-profit policing organisation ACPO outright instructed Chief Constables in England and Wales not to comply with the ruling. Makes it interesting when Tory shadow cabinet minister Damian Green then finds himself able to be taken off the database:

Damian Green, the Conservative frontbench immigration spokesman whose arrest during a Home Office leaks inquiry sparked a parliamentary storm, has won a four-month battle to have his DNA, fingerprint and police records destroyed.

The Metropolitan police told Green’s lawyers he is to be treated as “an exceptional case”. His DNA sample and fingerprints, taken when he was arrested, will be deleted within “a number of weeks”.

Green last night welcomed the decision “as a small but significant victory for freedom” but asked when DNA samples and profiles of 850,000 other innocent people who had been arrested but never charged would be destroyed.

Now why should a Tory front bencher (likely to be in government in the next 12 months) be able to force the Met to change their position on the DNA database, when so many others can’t? Green has the same question:

The home secretary is dragging his feet in producing even a consultation document in response to the European court’s ruling, which destroys the legal basis of current policy. So the policy, which intrudes on the privacy of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, could remain in place for months.

Britain is at the extreme end of this kind of state intrusion. At the end of September 2008, the national DNA database contained computerised DNA profiles and linked DNA samples from approximately 4.7 million individuals (more than 7% of the UK population). This is a much higher proportion of the population than any other EU or G8 country.

It’s quite unthinkable that the Home Office should so willingly ignore the ECHR’s ruling, although less so for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who contrary to popular belief aren’t even a government body. It might make political sense for both to limit their future embarrassment at a government minister with his DNA on the register, but their compliance with the ECHR ruling should be paramount. It’s a joke, as Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti points out, for decisions about which innocent people get their DNA removed from the database to be determined by whether or not they have an entry in Who’s Who! Liberty’s response has been to begin ‘DNA clinics’ in Hackney alongside local MP Diane Abbott, to begin helping people locally who have had their DNA retained illegally. Liberty says:

“If Damian Green MP can have his DNA destroyed in record time, young people in Hackney should be entitled to the same. Those without a powerful voice are just as innocent, yet the police seem to find their requests for DNA destruction considerably easier to dismiss.

Forty percent of Britain’s criminals are not on the database but hundreds of thousands of innocent people are. The National DNA database is one of the largest in the world, holding 4.5 million profiles – this includes around 300,000 children and approximately 850,000 innocent people who have never been charged or cautioned.

And Abbott provides an important reminder why it’s important to begin this process in somewhere like her constituency:

[But] as the Home Affairs Select Committee pointed out this month, black men are disproportionately represented on the database. In particular there are tens of thousands of completely innocent young people who have been stigmatised in this way. It is time that the government acted on the ECHR ruling that automatic retention of DNA is wrong. And I am looking forward to working with Liberty to make sure that young people in Hackney who are innocent of any crime can have their DNA taken off the government’s database just like Damian Green”

ID Database Breached Before It’s Even Begun

The National Identity Register, the database underpinning the government’s continuing plans for ID cards, may not have been instituted yet, but one of the three systems which will comprise its core has already been breached:

Nine local authority workers have been sacked after illegally accessing personal details of the public held on the government’s national identity database.

In total, 34 council workers were found to have illegally accessed the Customer Information System (CIS) database, which is currently earmarked to form part of a linked-up network of three systems constituting the government’s national identity database.

The Identity and Passport Service (IPS) has countered, saying:

“IPS will make the systems supporting the national identity service as secure as possible, building on an excellent track record with the current passport database.

“Our proposals for the development of the national identity service seek to incorporate the use of technology supporting CIS to store biographical information. However, such information would be stored separately from any information held on CIS by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and protected by strict audit and access controls.

“It will be a criminal offence to make any unauthorised disclosure of information and our security arrangements will also be subject to the independent scrutiny of both the information commissioner and a new identity commissioner.”

In order for our very identities to be protected from abuse by the government or simply its employees (and these 34 will be just the tip of the iceberg) we’ll need a government ‘identity commissioner’? How’s about no ID cards (no need/easily forged)? How’s about no National Identity Register? How’s about no National Identity Service? Henry Porter looks at the larger question of database security and how our identities will remain under greater threat because of the ID scheme:

A DWP spokesman suggested that the small number of breaches recorded indicated that unauthorised access by officials was spotted quickly. He did not, of course, acknowledge that these cases came from sample checks generated by the system.

This is absolutely critical. For years Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge university and NO2ID have been arguing that by their nature large databases will never be free of such abuse. Anderson’s Rule means you cannot construct a database with scale, functionality and security because if you design a large system for ease of access it becomes insecure, while if you make it watertight it becomes impossible to use.

And yet government presses ahead with the grand scheme of linking database together and allowing access to hundreds of thousands of officials

This addiction to databases and the bureaucracies which underpin them is at the heart of most of our problems. Computers and software may make for an efficient way of handling vast amounts of data, but a total reliance on predictability, standardisation and methods of control are destroying the society they’re supposed to be protecting. As a people we resist being overly rational – the system will keep being breached because idiots in the civil service (or contracted out agencies), not to mention organised crime will simply want to. All the ‘identity commisioners’ in the world won’t be able to stop that. To bureaucratise identity itself is to court absolute disaster.

Police Formally Ignore European Court

The police system in this country lurches from the banal to the ridiculous. After the victory of the S and Marper case against the government in the European Court of Human Rights in December, requiring innocent people’s DNA to be removed from the National DNA Database, then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith justified keeping them on because of the effectiveness of the database as a whole in preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. Typically she failed to mention that the inclusion of innocent people’s DNA had played no role whatsoever in the effective use of the database – in fact during the largest growth period of the database, its effectivness fell. In May though she decided to subvert the rule of law and keep innocent people’s DNA on the database for up to twelve years. Now the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has instructed Chief Constables to ignore the S and Marper ruling entirely:

Chief constables across England and Wales have been told to ignore a landmark ruling by the European court of human rights and carry on adding the DNA profiles of tens of thousands of innocent people to a national DNA database.

Senior police officers have also been “strongly advised” that it is “vitally important” that they resist individual requests based on the Strasbourg ruling to remove DNA profiles from the national database in cases such as wrongful arrest, mistaken identity, or where no crime has been committed.

The advice to senior officers comes in a letter from the Association of Chief Police Officers criminal records office. The letter, seen by the Guardian, tells chief constables that new Home Office guidelines following the ruling in the case of S and Marper are not expected to take effect until 2010.

“Until that time, the current retention policy on fingerprints and DNA remains unchanged,” it says. “Individuals who consider they fall within the ruling in the S and Marper case should await the full response to the ruling by the government prior to seeking advice and/or action from the police service in order to address their personal issue on the matter.

“Acpo strongly advise that decisions to remove records should not be based on [the government’s] proposed changes. It is therefore vitally important that any applications for removals of records should be considered against current legislation.”

This move by ACPO should be seen in light of what ACPO actually is – a quango, and one which still supports the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police at the G20 protests. It is a private, for-profit advisory body, and not a constitutional arm of the police of the UK. Yet we are in an age where these extra-governmental bodies determine (and subvert) the rule of law (ISA anybody?) and public policy. Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne is right – it’s outrageous that the Home Office’s post-S and Marper guidance won’t be available until 2010, unacceptable that the government intends to use statutory instruments to bypass the will and scrutiny of the House of Commons in trying to sidestep the European Court, and even more outrageous that ACPO should feel able to ignore the European Court’s wishes altogether. The rule of law is being trashed by the institutions charged with being its ultimate guarantors – they must be stopped.

The Pervasiveness of State Intrusion

To add to the ongoing criticisms of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), Josie Appleton takes aim at the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB):

The CRB is a classic late New Labour institution: flabby, inefficient and feeding on mistrust. It has doubled in size since 2002, growing from 1.4m checks a year to about 3.9m in 2008. With the new vetting database – which will include everyone who works or volunteers with children or “vulnerable people” – state intrusion will become even more pervasive. About 12 million adults will be kept on this continuously updated register.

The ballooning of bureaucracy is fed by paranoia and suspicion. Anyone, apparently, could be a paedophile, even those grannies helping out at the nursery, and it is only through the cleansing hand of bureaucrats that we are declared clean and “safe”. The less people are trusted, the more faith is placed in bureaucrats – and all their reassuring jargon about databases, “risk management procedures” and “approaches to safeguarding”.

And yet as she says the CRB made 1570 mistakes last year – twice the total from the previous year. People getting branded paedophiles when they’re not, employers making decisions about individuals based on a bureaucrat’s word rather than judging and risk assessing them on their own merits, is it a symptom of our detachment from one another or a contributing cause? Weber wrote of the ‘iron cage’ of rationalisation, and it does look as though bureaucracy indeed puts us in an iron cage, limiting individual human freedom and potential instead of ushering in a “technological utopia” that should set us free. We are becoming rigid and dehumanised, the more we place our faith in rationalisation and bureaucracy, and the irony is the evidence is everywhere that we should not. Ritzer suggests society is going as far as to become ‘McDonaldised‘, where traditional values are getting replaced by predictability, standardisation and methods of control – we eat ‘fast’ food, which perversely isn’t fast, nor is it as good food as we can make on our own, but the paradigm we’re operating under makes it difficult to see. The CRB and the ISA (the rationalisation of the irrational) are also evidence that Weber and Ritzer were both right – but who loses out? The kids. Suicide rates for children and young people are  increasing, CRBs and ISAs abound, which (again consistently with Weber’s ‘iron cage’ theory) by their depersonalising natures don’t have a chance in hell of properly identifying risk or controlling people who genuinely are dangerous.

Even people would become part of the bureaucratised machine said Weber. He was right. And we have to look about setting that right. I hope we can. Rethinking the CRB and abolishing the ISA would be an excellent start.

ID Cards to Protect ‘Identity Rights’

Home Secretary Alan Johnson has created ‘identity rights’! Rejoice! He will continue to introduce ID cards by stealth, but worry not – your ‘identity rights’ will be guaranteed!

The union flag has been left off the final design of the national identity card unveiled today in order to recognise the “identity rights” of Irish nationals living in Northern Ireland.

Instead the ID card design unveiled by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, features a tasteful floral pattern made up of the shamrock, daffodil, thistle and rose alongside the Royal Coat of Arms.

A Home Office spokesperson said today this was because “the card represents all the nations of the United Kingdom and the design reflects themes of Britishness and aspects of UK history”.

The Home Office say that they are clear that the ID card scheme must work in a way that “fully recognises the identity rights of the people of Northern Ireland as laid out in the Belfast Agreement”.

The assessment says that while some symbols have been included within the card’s design to indicate that the document has been issued by the British government they have “sought to design features which can reflect all parts of the United Kingdom, such as the inclusion of the shamrock to represent Ireland within the tactile feature, and we have sought to avoid symbols such as flags”.

The decision means that Irish nationals living in Northern Ireland will be issued with an “identification card” which is a version of the identity card which will differ from that issued to British citizens.

‘Identity rights’? What are these supposed to be? Are they somehow supposed to be more important than human rights (which ID cards are in breach of)? Are we supposed to be grateful that our various ‘identity rights’ are secured by ID cards when our liberty is not? Chris Grayling, most likely to be Tory Home Secretary next year suggests that it’s a smokescreen, that Johnson is desperately trying to come up with a sales pitch for a scheme which he can’t afford and which none of us wants:

what use will the scheme be? How can the police use it when only a few will have the cards? Why should the NHS spend millions on card readers when not everyone has one?

And why on earth will people who are already short of cash rush out to spend their 30 quid at the ID card shop rather than on a Chinese takeaway for Friday night? Or a couple of bottles of scotch? Or a cheap seats ticket at Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon?

It wasn’t Alan’s idea. He probably didn’t want it. But he’s the poor sap with the job in the sales department who has to go out and persuade you to part with your hard earned cash.

I would argue the point a little differently. Johnson clearly doesn’t intend ID cards to remain voluntary – his ‘Safeguarding (there’s that buzzword again, notice) Identity’ paper, the policies belonging to which he is clearly pursuing vigorously, at its core depends on ID cards for all. But rather than deliver with a frontal assault, he’ll make it impossible to get a passport without forcible inclusion on the National Identity Register, he’ll make student loans impossible to obtain without ID cards, and he may have stepped back from an unwinnable battle with airside aviation workers, but he’s bound to impose them on another vulnerable, minority group and then another, and then another…

Most people don’t want them, so don’t buy the cuddly new Home Secretary’s soft soap. ID cards must be stopped completely.

Stop the Immoral Independent Safeguarding Authority!

The Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) undermines the basis of fairness and the rule of law in this country. It’s very simple. You commit a crime, you go to court, you pay a price, that price is finite, then you are allowed to continue in society. If you have killed it probably pays for the police to keep an eye on you; that’s what they do. If you are guilty of anything which gets the attention of child protection services then they keep an eye on you too. Neither agency can however permanently punish you, they can’t infringe your human rights – they can only do their jobs, and they with probation services are tasked through fair and proportional, evidence-based means with preventing repeat offending. Social services are allowed powers to guarantee the safety of the vulnerable – these, crucially, are evidence-based, and depend on social workers understanding specific people, families and situations via every local government agency (including care homes, schools etc), and working in conjunction with them. If existing agencies had done their jobs properly Ian Huntley would never have murdered Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells. If existing agencies had done their jobs properly Baby Peter would be alive today. If existing agencies had done their jobs properly Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez would be alive today. Get the picture?

The ISA however was created under the assumption that anyone and everyone is a potential danger to vulnerable people. The ‘authority’ blacklists people it doesn’t know but determines to be dangerous, from large swathes of employment, with no credible means of appeal at all. This can be evidence-based, but it doesn’t have to be, and in many cases it already hasn’t been. If you’re an employer the freedom you currently have to risk-assess whether or not a potential (or existing) employee is safe and suitable will be ripped from you – you face actual prosecution if you hire a barred person for work the ISA doesn’t approve of. This can be the result of a false accusation, a whimsical stance against a former offender (New Labour’s created a lot of those – have you noticed?), and check the first paragraph – it’s all unnecessary. As a contributor to this blog has pointed out:

To contextualise this, it is statistically proven that about 60% of men will have an affair during the course of their married life. Therefore, “on the balance of probability” ALL married men are adulterous. Clearly, this conclusion is wrong; but is the conclusion that the ISA would have to reach, determined by their own policy.

It’s crackers, but this is the road we’re going down. How on earth can this protect the children, young and vulnerable people who need protection? Why is the money needed to fund a giant, unaccountable bureaucracy not going into probation, police and social services whose job it is to prevent offending? Why is the right training and right management not being provided for our local services? Why do they still persist in not communicating with one another properly to protect society from the real dangers? Setting up a ‘cure-all’ agency to fix a problem only effectively tackled with sensitivity by multi-agency and community work will only divert attention away from the real threats in society. An undermined rule of law and no effective means of protecting the vulnerable – the ISA must be abolished as a matter of urgency.