Snoring in a surveillance society

December 31, 2007

Well, at least one of our national newspapers is awake:

Britain, the country with the world’s biggest network of surveillance cameras, has the worst record in Europe for the protection of privacy, according to a report from a London-based international watchdog.

The UK is billed as “an endemic surveillance society” alongside Russia, the US, Singapore and China in the survey of 47 countries by Privacy International (PI).

The full report is well worth reading.


NB: NHS Spine

December 31, 2007

If you haven’t already done it, today’s Times has a reminder about opting out of having NHS records uploaded to the ‘spine’:

SENIOR doctors are encouraging a mass revolt against the government’s £12 billion national health database by supporting a campaign to urge patients to opt out.

Activists in the British Medical Association (BMA) have produced a pro forma letter that people can send to their GP to stop their records going onto the database.

Parents can opt out on behalf of children aged under 16. However, we have seen guidance from one Primary Care Trust that tells GPs to interview older children if parents should opt out on their behalf, and overrule the parents’ wishes if the child is assessed as ‘Frazer competent’ (sic).

The usual expression is ‘Gillick competent’ and it is used to describe a situation where a child requires medical treatment without the knowledge of his/her parents. In the House of Lords judgment in the case of Gillick, Lord Fraser (with an ‘s’) laid down strict guidelines around the circumstances in which a medical practitioner might obtain consent to treatment directly from a child.

These guidelines required a practitioner to attempt to persuade the child to involve his/her parents, and they also presupposed that the child would receive expert medical advice from the practitioner. We do not believe that a GP has such expertise in data protection and information security, nor do we believe that the ability to assess a child’s competence to consent to medical treatment equips a GP to assess his/her competence to consent to data storage and sharing.

Finally, Lord Fraser warned that the Gillick judgment should not be taken as a licence to disregard parents’ wishes whenever it was convenient to do so, and that any practitioner who behaved in such a fashion should be subject to disciplinary proceedings.

**If anyone opting out of the NHS spine on behalf of their child experiences problems, we should like to know about them. Please circulate this information as widely as possible.**

One that got away

December 29, 2007

This item only made it as far as the Guardian’s News in Brief:

A survey of almost 1,000 primary schools found that 49% were backing up pupil data on to discs, memory sticks or tapes which were taken off the school premises, exposing the material to loss or theft. IT experts RM School Management Solutions, which carried out the survey, said that only 1% of respondents encrypted the data. A further 4% of schools were leaving sensitive and unprotected data at unsecured locations on the school premises.

For spine-chilling effect, one only has to look at this to get an idea of the depth of data collected on school pupils, and remember that there are around 350 school break-ins in each police area every year.

Burying bad news

December 22, 2007

While we were all busy trying to get the Christmas tree lights to work:

Nine NHS trusts have admitted losing patients’ information in the aftermath of the HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) data loss scandal, it has emerged.

Hundreds of thousands of people are thought to have been affected by the breaches of strict data protection rules by the health service.

Wonder what they’re saving for Christmas Eve?

Some good news

December 20, 2007

At last:

Two restraint techniques used on children in custody have been suspended by ministers after medical concern. The so-called nose distraction, involving a painful upward chop against the septum, and the “double basket”, whereby the arms are crossed and held behind the back, are banned while their safety is checked.

Kudos to the Children’s Rights Alliance who have fought a flat-out campaign following the deaths of several children in custody. During the inquests that followed their deaths, it became clear that ‘restraint’ was too often just another word for punishment

So far this week…

December 19, 2007


The details of three million candidates for the driving theory test have gone missing, Ruth Kelly has told MPs.


The personal details of 6,500 customers belonging to a pension firm have been lost at an office of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in Cardiff.

When interviewed on Newsnight, Ruth Kelly even managed to mention Victoria Climbie. It’s becoming rather like a contemptible version of Fainites.

Breach revelation du jour

December 14, 2007

Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust, come on down:

The details of up to 3,000 NHS patients could have been on a computer stolen from a doctors’ surgery.

The laptop belonging to the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Service (DRSS) contained patients’ names, addresses, dates of birth and phone numbers.

…The trust said the computer did not contain any national insurance numbers or medical information, but a link to a picture of patients’ retinas was stored on it.

6 more days

December 14, 2007


The Contactpoint petition now has 1269 signatures. It closes next Thursday, so if you want to sign – or let other people know about it – now’s the time.

Children’s privacy in danger

December 14, 2007

OUTLAW highlights a major data protection breach:

Santa Claus could be breaking privacy laws in his collection and use of data about British children, experts have warned. Yuletide cheer-bringer Claus could be putting the personal data of millions of children at risk.

Discs of the day

December 13, 2007

And today it’s the turn of 160,000 lucky children at St Leonard’s Hospital to have their data lost. Ideal Government has the details.

…and the answer is ‘not if we can help it’

December 13, 2007

Tim Loughton has had his PQ answered. The answer is that they’re not going to publish the full Integrated Children’s System report:

Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (1) when his Department commissioned the report on The Integrated Children’s System: An Evaluation of the Practice, Process and Consequences of the ICS in CSSRs; [171697]

(2) when he plans to publish the report commissioned by his Department on the Integrated Children’s System: An Evaluation of the Practice, Process and Consequences of the ICS in CSSRs; and when his Department received the report. [171705]

Kevin Brennan [holding answer 5 December 2007]: The study was commissioned in June 2004. The first draft of the report was received in September 2006. A summary of the key findings from the research is being prepared for publication on the Department’s website in early 2008.

And today’s prize for data protection breaches…

December 12, 2007

…goes to Sefton PCT:

Hundreds of staff have had their personal details leaked after a Merseyside health care trust “accidentally” sent them out.

Trade union Unite is calling for an urgent investigation into why Sefton Primary Care Trust sent staff details out to four medical organisations.

The blunder includes dates of birth, National Insurance numbers, salary and pension details for all staff.

More shroud-waving

December 12, 2007

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services don’t appear to have read the government’s FAQs on Contactpoint. In a letter to the Guardian today they assert:

The critical need for ContactPoint is to ensure we can be absolutely confident about the identification of vulnerable children and young people – this was a fundamental failing which contributed to the Victoria Climbié tragedy. ContactPoint is essentially a coordination system, which will help us all to work together to avoid tragedies of this kind.

And once more, here’s that government FAQ:

Is ContactPoint all about child protection?

No, ContactPoint is principally about supporting early intervention for the 30-50% of children who at some point in their lives need additional services to ensure they achieve good outcomes. But it will also aid communication about children identified as being at risk of significant harm.

NB: It does not say that it will be of any use in actually identifying them.

Because we say so

December 11, 2007

Evidence-based policy is a wonderful thing. We’ve finally had a chance to look at the DCSF-commissioned report on the proposals to raise the education ‘participation age’ to 18, published a couple of weeks ago:

The main benefit for young people of further participation is in terms of increased future earnings. Even though there is evidence that vocational qualifications at level 2 or below have little economic impact generally, research suggests that they are likely to considerably benefit young people who leave school with no qualifications.

Which seems to translate as: young people who stay in education earn more. Well, actually, if they have low-level qualifications, no they don’t. But staying in education in order to get low-level qualifications is good for them. (Although the report calls higher earnings the ‘main benefit’, there doesn’t seem to be any mention of any other benefits. So quite why it’s good for them isn’t clear.)

It gets better:

It is reasonable to assume that staying on in education or training will lead to improved qualifications, which will in turn lead to increased future earnings. However, relatively few studies have examined the link between staying on and improved educational outcomes.

Ah, IOW there isn’t any evidence so we’ll resort to assumptions.

In addition to searching bibliographic databases and internet sources, international contacts were asked to provide relevant information. There was little or no direct evidence of the likely impact of introducing a system of compulsory education or training to the age of 18

So we don’t even know what the effects might be.

Although the proposal is for compulsory participation, the Green Paper acknowledges that it will be better to encourage young people to participate of their own free will.

An interesting concept of ‘free will’ there. And if they exercise it…?

It will be necessary to track young people, and enforce participation in cases where they refuse to engage voluntarily. Countries which operate a similar system use sanctions such as fines (for young people and/or their parents) and withholding driving licences

But guess what:

as yet there is limited direct evidence indicating how successful these sanctions are

…and waiting

December 11, 2007

Getting on for 15 months now. Almost a year after his last attempt, shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton has had another try at getting the government to publish the ICS evaluation that was delivered to them in September 2006:

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, when he plans to publish the report commissioned by his Department on the Integrated Children’s System: An Evaluation of the Practice, Process and Consequences of the ICS in CSSRs; and when his Department received the report.

Ten days later he still hasn’t had a reply. C’mon DCSF, nothing to hide nothing to fear.