Reported in several newspapers this week ...
A huge 'Big Brother' style database containing details of around eight million schoolchildren is being compiled without the knowledge of their parents.
IT systems specialists are creating the database - children's ages, sex, academic and behavioural records - which can be shared among officials from other agencies such as the police, NHS and charities. Teachers are uploading information on pupils as often as six times a day to the database, created by Capita, one of the UK's largest contractors to both central and local government.
The database is said to be already being used by as many as 100 local authorities, according to The Sunday Times, with 22,000 schools nationwide uploading to the service to provide a 'thread' of data that is accessible to all those working with children. It is thought that youth offending teams, which include police officers, will also be offered access to the information.
As well as basic details such as the child's address and attendance records, information about special needs and behavioural records are also included.
Capita hires photographers to take pictures of schoolchildren, which are offered for sale to parents before being uploaded onto the database - known as the One system - to accompany the information compiled. The majority of parents are not informed that the data is being gathered and can be held on file indefinitely.
Director of civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, Nick Pickles, said: 'Parents will be shocked that they are being kept in the dark about how their child's information is being gathered and exactly what it is used for.'
Although the firm has provided information management systems to schools for many years, teachers could now upload files to the central One database. Local councils then collate the information and can add information from other authorities to the file. Although councils upload the information, they do not use the children's pictures.
Under the Capita One system information about children held on a council database could potentially be shared with other local authorities such as the NHS, police and youth offending services. A separate software program called API can allow external officials such as social workers to access a child's information.
Swindon Borough Council already shares the details of more than 48,000 pupils on its database with youth offending teams and NHS Swindon. The authority said that the data is held within data protection laws and only provided to those who need to see it. But the Information Commissioners Office has confirmed that it will investigate whether use of the One system falls within data protection guidelines.
Capita claimed that local authorities using the system were taking data protection laws seriously and said that only a few councils were using the software that allows external agencies to view children's information. A spokesman told The Sunday Times: 'Each local authority holds and manages permission and access to its own information held in its Capita One database. Capita One is not a centralised database for the whole country.
The GOS says: Well, that's very reassuring, isn't it? Local authorities using the system are taking data protection seriously? I think we all know how seriously local officials take any legislation if they see a chance to use it to enhance their own power – look at the way local councils have taken it on themselves to spy on members of the public using current anti-terrorist legislation as their justification. It's perfectly obvious to anyone with half a brain – if petty officials see a chance to gain some power and influence, or to make a profit, the information in this database will suddenly become a commodity to be traded. It's happened at the DVLA, it happens with the Electoral Role, it happens with the Census, so why should this be any different?
Already people are making comments about “ID cards by the back door” and “Orwell was right”, and I for one don't blame them. This is sinister, and in the light of all we know about local and central government's shaky grasp on IT, very dangerous.
If I were a paedophile, I'd find the prospect of a list of vulnerable children, their ages, addresses, behavioural history and medical records, very interesting indeed. In fact, if I were a paedophile I'd already be honing my IT skills and looking for a low-level clerical job with the local council.
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