Terrible teen tales

May 31, 2007

Having just surfaced from a 48-hour bout of writing a paper that should have been finished days ago, lack of sleep is probably making me unduly flippant about the panics-du-jour over young people. But honestly… ‘Teenagers lured into meeting virtual strangers’:

One in five teenagers has met someone face-to-face whom they first encountered on the internet, according to research into the risks taken by young people online.

Well, OK, some of them may well need a bit of health-and-safety advice – but ‘lured’? Presumably not everyone turned out to be a hairy 40-year-old man with a penchant for pretending to like My Chemical Romance, or I’m sure we would have heard about it. Maybe some of them met heterosexual people of the same sex as themselves – and even the same age. Now there’s a thought.

The study found that teenagers also freely hand out personal information to strangers. Details divulged include full name (30 per cent), address (12 per cent), mobile number (20 per cent) and where they go to school (46 per cent), while 9 per cent had posted family photos.

It doesn’t really sound as if ‘teenagers’ are handing out information particularly freely if 70% didn’t disclose their full name and 88% didn’t disclose their address.

The mother of a 16yo boy laments: “Up until a few years ago I felt I had good parental control. Now I don’t.” I know the feeling – sometimes the reality that one’s children are growing up takes one by surprise. I remember a friend having real trouble persuading her father that she was in fact an adult, and making fellow tube passengers laugh out loud when she hissed in exasperation: “Look, Dad, I’m a grown woman. I’m a wife and a mother. Actually, I’m a grandmother!

Meanwhile, over at the Guardian:

Watching pop videos featuring thin, scantily clad women for just 10 minutes was enough to drive down girls’ satisfaction with their body shape, according to a study which appears in the journal Body Image.

Researchers fear the damage inflicted on the self-image of girls as they prepare to leave schools and sixth form colleges is widespread, given the near ubiquity of music videos on television and on big screens in clothes shops, cafes and bars.

Ah, once upon a time Twiggy and Barbie Dolls took the rap. If creating scapegoats for the last few decades hasn’t worked, maybe we should make some effort to improve girls’ self-esteem instead of publishing stories about how damage-prone they are.

Fingerprints and lies

May 29, 2007

Tarique reports that his children’s head teacher is not exactly setting the best of examples when it comes to honesty.

(HT: Pippa)


May 29, 2007

From today’s Independent:

Ministers had hoped to begin rolling out a national computer system this year that would enable police to get instant details of criminal offences committed by a person working with children or vulnerable adults. But the Home Office has cancelled the launch after software failed in tests. It was the latest in a series of government information technology projects to be plagued by problems.

…Meanwhile, a database of gun owners has still not been created, 11 years after the Dunblane massacre, and is facing further delays. The National Firearms Licensing Management System was intended to link into the police national computer by next month. But that has been postponed for another two months as some forces struggle with “data cleansing”.

Sunday reading

May 27, 2007

Given that we’re flailing around in a sea of DNA, fingerprints and Gillick competence at the moment (it’s like buses – they all come along at once) it’s just as well that we can lazily redirect you to two good comment pieces in the Sundays. And we’re not saying that only because they both give our recent briefing on children’s DNA retention a mention.

David Davis is in the Independent asking whether Brown will restore the civil liberties that have disappeared under Blair.

Henry Porter has a mighty call to action in the Observer:

What makes our apathy so striking is that even police officers are beginning to speak out about the state we’re creating. Ian Readhead, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers data protection group, warned that we were moving to an ‘Orwellian situation’ with cameras being installed in peaceful villages such as Stockbridge in Hampshire. Mr Readhead, also deputy chief constable of Hampshire, said if the spread of cameras continued, Britain would not be a country he would want to live in.

His comments followed those by the acting chief constable of Suffolk, Colin Langham-Fitt, who criticised the growth of CCTV and the government’s ID card scheme. If these officers are expressing concern, we can safely conclude that it is time for us to show something more than the bovine compliance of the last few years.

Every Child at risk

May 27, 2007

An excellent piece from Victoria McDonald in the New Statesman dealing with the aspect of database-mania that is most often overlooked – security:

I firmly believe that before committing any of this information to a national database, the public must be assured that it is secure.

The children’s index is, after all, a system that will store the details of 11 million children and be available to teachers, social workers and others with a “need to know”. The checks and balances, we are told, include ensuring all users undergo training and an enhanced criminal records bureau check. Every request will be audited.

But if these security fears are groundless, why has the education minister, Lord Adonis, said: “Children who have a reason for not being traced, for example where there is a threat of domestic violence or where the child has celebrity status, will have their details concealed”?

(We’ll overlook the fact that she has fallen into the ‘child protection’ trap and repeated the government’s fallacy that the Index – or ‘ContactPoint’ if you want to be modern – was a response to Victoria Climbie’s death. The correct timeline is here)

It’s good to share

May 25, 2007

The Information Commissioner has published guidelines on information-sharing (pdf) for local authorities. Worth reading the whole thing – it’s only 3 pages.

Amongst the paragraphs that particularly caught our eye are:

“Our starting point will be to look at the effect of information sharing on individuals. If there is no risk of real unfairness or unwarranted detriment, we will not seek to use our powers to prevent the sharing”


“Some information, for example that relating to a person’s health, is considered particularly sensitive and most people would probably expect their consent to be obtained prior to it being shared”

…which makes it sound like a matter of picky, personal preference rather than something intimately connected with the Data Protection Act 1998.

We strongly recommend some essential bank holiday reading: the section on data protection, and the circumstances in which ‘sensitive’ data can be shared, contained in Chapter 7 of the FIPR report (pdf) to the ICO on children’s databases. Douwe Korff manages to make this traditionally fearsome area of law easy to follow.

Who do you think you are?

May 23, 2007

I’m having an existential crisis. From the FT:

Google’s ambition to maximise the personal information it holds on users is so great that the search engine envisages a day when it can tell people what jobs to take and how they might spend their days off.

How do I know I’m not just a Sim in someone else’s game?