Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why Charlotte's wrong on child protection

Curse those evil politicians wanting to protect our children and vulnerable adults! Comments in some quarters come close to equating the new Independent Safeguarding Authority to the East German Stasi.

For example, Charlotte Gore's post on the ISA was originally titled "Britain is turning into a totalitarian state" (see the URL) and interprets the ISA's guidance as a snooper's and snitcher's charter where rumour, innuendo and the most minor of infractions could see you branded a sex-offender in the eyes of the local community.

Charlotte makes some excellent points, but her attack goes way over the top.

Those who are interested in what will really happen under this new scheme would do well to look at some of the previous controversial legislation we on the civil liberties side of the fence were worried about. Without exception, three things turned out to be true with all those laws.

First, the worst predictions of the effect of the laws and how Britain would become a police state proved very wide of the mark. Second, Government predictions of how terrorism or some other evil would be dealt a stunning blow also proved to be so much nonsense. Finally, the way the laws are actually used, by police forces and other public bodies with limited resources and their own agendas, has surprised pretty much everyone. RIPA and the legislation against extreme pornography are two good examples.

The new scheme run by the ISA is not an attempt by the Government to turn us all into sex offenders and snitches. It's a genuine, if misguided in a typically New Labour way, attempt to deal with a real problem that worries millions of parents around the country.

Child abuse may not be acceptable in the way it was a few decades ago, but it's still out there.

Charlotte highlights the wording of the rules giving the grounds for stopping someone working with children or vulnerable adults but, in doing so, she misses the real problem.

It's not the rules, it's the system.

As the ISA proudly says, this will be the largest system of its kind in the world. Over five years, 11 million of us will be brought onto it. With my permission, an employer or voluntary organisation will be able to check me out online.

You just need to do the maths. 11.3 million over five years works out as 9,000 people a day being put onto the system.

Nine thousand a day. Approximately one person every three seconds.

The idea that experts with gather data effectively and use their judgement to make the right decision on each person is completely laughable. The ISA won't have enough resources.

It will do what always happens in these situations. Corners will be cut, large chunks of data will be imported with little or no checking and decisions based on guesses, rules of thumb and arbitrary thresholds will be the order of the day.

As to the security of the system - I don't know the details, but I would seriously question whether it's possible to secure a database of that size that can be accessed online. Will it really be true that no-one can access my records unless I give them permission? How is that being implemented?

This is the real problem. Not a Stalinist Big Brother State branding us paedos for reading the wrong article in the Metro or being sarcastic; but a well-meaning Government yet again implementing a poorly-thought out system relying on yet another enormous database, with huge amounts of data flowing in and out.


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