La la la, can’t hear you

January 26, 2007

We’re generally wary of words like ‘shocking’, but in this case (and given the smoking gun in the hand of ‘Doc RedTop’ himself) it’s entirely justified.

The head of the Youth Justice Board, Rod Morgan, has resigned after the Home Office decided to advertise his job rather than simply renew his contract. He isn’t going quietly. In a Newsnight interview to be shown tonight, he says of the 26% increase in children entering the criminal justice system that:

government targets for bringing offences to justice were having “perverse consequences” by swelling prisoner numbers unnecessarily.

Minor offences that used to be dealt with informally or out of court were now being pushed into an overstretched criminal justice system, and work to improve regimes in young offender institutions was being “undermined”

Predictably, the Home Office has a two-fingered response:

“We refute the claim that young people are being demonised and criminalised. Considerable emphasis has been placed on providing activities for young people.”

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Home Office is already pretty cheesed about the YJB report on ASBOs, so their decision to re-advertise Rod Morgan’s job in an attempt to find someone holding the right song-sheet was always on the cards.

It was less than 6 months ago that Rob Allen came to the end of his contract with the YJB, and sounded off about:

elements which are deeply disappointing: the increasing criminalisation of young people involved in minor delinquency, and the stubbornly high use of custodial remands and sentences.

‘And there are some developments of which we really should be ashamed, in particular aspects of the way we lock up children, the demonisation of young people involved in anti-social behaviour and the coarsening of the political and public debate about how to deal with young people in trouble.’

Meanwhile, YJB board member Howard Williamson grits his teeth and hangs on but for how long, who knows? He has already deplored the

increasingly authoritarian and interventionist state

Pardon the apoplexy, but what depths have we plumbed when a government prefers appeasing tabloids by getting macho with children rather than listening to its own youth justice specialists?


EDM on children’s biometrics

January 25, 2007

Following on from our post on the use of children’s fingerprints in school, an Early Day Motion has now been tabled. Please do take a look at it, and (preferably) contact your MP to sign up to it.

Can’t you just be modern?

January 24, 2007

David Walker in today’s Guardian says that we should ‘delete this dread of data sharing’:

The optimists – and they are not all Microsoft or Oracle executives with a product to sell – want interactions between people and their government to be as slick and trouble-free as they can be.

I’m willing to bet that pessimists and realists want exactly the same but, that aside, before citing Microsoft, Walker would have been wise to check out the views of Jerry Fishenden or Kim Cameron.

Fishenden, for example, describes:

“…the specific problems associated with the type of large scale databases that seem to be – puzzlingly – back in vogue, despite their known security shortcomings”

While the first of Cameron’s ‘Seven Laws of Identity’ puts consent at the heart of data-sharing.

And that’s the problem: it’s one thing to decide that you will give government departments permission to share your data in order to avoid having to “…tell the council, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions separately of a death”. It’s quite another to have a government take decisions about your private life out of your hands.

Puzzlingly, Walker asks: “is this reluctance to embrace the opportunities a result of the mistrust fired on all matters of data and IT?”

What? Is it really likely that IT security experts of the stature of Bruce Schneier and Ross Anderson (not to mention the two already cited above) are technophobic Luddites? A glance at their pedigrees ought to be sufficient to give even the most idealistic Big Database evangelist pause for thought. As for objections to sharing children’s data: when eminent child protection specialists and social workers shout “Danger!” it’s a damn good idea to listen.

Walker continues:

“Why the assumption that the state is malign? …There is a lump of opinion formers and lobbyists whose distrust of government and indifference to the benefits of information flow remains a powerful block – and a perverse justification for the many public managers dragging their feet on the information highway.”

We make no assumption that the state is malign at the moment, but the best way to ensure that it never becomes so is to prevent it from gaining the power in the first place – a key reason for having human rights instruments that enshrine such principles as privacy. Meanwhile, there is compelling evidence that we should certainly be concerned about the security of our personal data on the grounds of competence alone. The potential to do harm, even when meaning well, is enormous. Ultimately, if someone runs you over with a JCB, it doesn’t matter whether they are malicious, poorly-qualified or merely careless: the effect is the same.

Nice little earner

January 23, 2007

Almost missed this in last week’s Children Now:

The number of parents fined because their children play truant has more than doubled in a year, while levels of truancy have stayed the same, the latest Government figures reveal.

Nearly 5,000 penalty notices were issued to parents between 22 April 2006 and 1 September 2006…But figures released last week by the Department for Education and Skills show that unauthorised absences remained stubbornly at 0.78 per cent of half days missed last academic year – exactly the same level as the previous year.

Meanwhile, Carlotta has an interesting account of school refusal.

Hoodies start young

January 23, 2007

It’s not April 1st, is it?

A toddler has been banned from a North Yorkshire shop for wearing a hoodie.

Two-year-old Jay Cowper was wrapped up against the cold in a brown jacket with a furry hood when he went shopping with his grandfather in York.

Jay was asked to remove his hood by staff at Monkton Road Stores because of a “no hoodie” policy designed to tackle problems with troublemakers.

His grandfather refused out of principle and the pair were forced to leave the store.

DNA consultation

January 22, 2007

A reminder that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics is running a consultation on the forensic use of DNA, the retention of DNA profiles and secondary uses to which DNA samples may be put.

The consultation closes on 30th January – Tuesday week. They really do want to hear from as many people as possible, so go and give them your views. You don’t have to answer the full list of questions – only the ones on which you want to comment.

Peter Clarke

January 22, 2007

We’ve had sad news today: Peter Clarke, the admirable and feisty Children’s Commissioner for Wales, died yesterday morning. He was the first of the UK’s commissioners, and wasn’t afraid to stick his head above the parapet – as his Clywch report demonstrated. He’ll be a hard act to follow.