The ORG Data Challenge

December 17, 2008

Go and find out how much of your data has been lost in this sobering survey from the Open Rights Group.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

December 13, 2008

‘Selective’ use of statistics on knife crime has got the government into very hot water.

I recommend reading Mark Easton, who has been consistently good at puncturing the bubble of hysteria around issues such as ‘yoof crime’ and knives by using the equally sharp tools of facts and figures. Here’s one example from last week, when the Home Office published its ‘statistics’ apparently demonstrating the resounding success of its knife-crime policy:

“Serious knife crimes against young people (homicide, attempted murder, GBH with intent) fell by 17% between June and October 2008 in the ten TKAP areas,” the Home Office press release proclaims.

Sounds good. But 17% actually equals, er… 17 incidents.

He also points out that the statistics did not come from the UK Statistics Authority, a body established by former Chancellor Gordon Brown to provide reliable statistics for the public:

Instead, the Home Office has rung up police forces and asked them for statistics to illustrate the effectiveness of their “Tackling Knives Action Programme” (TKAP).

Government statisticians tried to persuade the Home Office not to release figures that were selective, unchecked and potentially misleading, and now Sir Michael Scholar, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority has waded in to the fracas, describing the incident as:

“corrosive of public trust in official statistics and incompatible with the high standards which we are all seeking to establish”.

As I say, if you want real information rather than panic and political spin, read Mark Easton’s blog and follow some of his links.


Safety first

December 12, 2008

If you/your child are/is (OK, so I’m a pedant) thinking about signing up to the ‘School Together Now’ social networking site for 7-12s, you really should read this excellent and expert critique first.

Leeds 2, DP 0

December 11, 2008

For For the second time this week:

A laptop used by an educational psychologist dealing with some of Leeds’s most troubled children has gone missing.The computer was reported missing to police yesterday after being missing for a week.

Leeds claim that the data on the laptop wasn’t sensitive. So what on earth was the ed psych actually recording on it?

Another singalong

December 8, 2008

From the BBC:

The private details of thousands of children were found on a memory stick dropped by a council worker…it included the names, dates of birth, ethnicity and contact details for about 5,000 nursery-age children living in the Leeds area.

The council has apologised and started an investigation.

The stick, which was found in a second-hand car, also contained confidential information about child protection and whether or not the children’s parents claimed state benefits.

The data was, of course, unencrypted. Now, you all know the chorus:

A council spokeswoman said: “We take issues of information security very seriously”

Death knell for the National DNA Database

December 4, 2008

This is fantastic news:

Two British men should not have had their DNA and fingerprints retained by police, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

The men’s information was held by South Yorkshire Police, although neither was convicted of any offence.

The judgement could have major implications on how DNA records are stored in the UK’s national database.

The judges said keeping the information “could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society”.

The database may now have to be scaled back following the unanimous judgement by 17 senior judges from across Europe.

Is it too early to open a bottle of champagne?

Update: From the judgment:

In conclusion, the Court finds that the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences, as applied in the case of the present applicants, fails to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests and that the respondent State has overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation in this regard. Accordingly, the retention at issue constitutes a disproportionate interference with the applicants’ right to respect for private life and cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society.

There goes another one

December 3, 2008

This speaks for itself really:

Personal information regarding thousands of children is in criminal hands after a laptop theft. Surrey County Council (SCC) notified the 7,851 children, parents and carers, whose details were stolen, that there had been a “potential security breach” in a letter over the weekend.

Personal, unencrypted data was stored on the laptop swiped from a car belonging to one of the county council’s contractors, Trapeze Group UK Ltd, on November 12.

Unencrypted? Unencrypted? Oh good grief. You’d think they might have learned by now. And in case you’re wondering, Trapeze Group is responsible for arranging transport for children.

The dangers of big ideas

December 2, 2008

A smashing article from David Batty – one of the few journalists who has shown consistent understanding of the potential child protection problems that the government’s broad ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda creates:

The momentum of the government’s post-Climbié reforms has been to improve the wellbeing of all children rather than to focus on those most in need. The creation of children’s trusts in every local authority, combining education and social services, has arguably led to child protection being marginalised. Children’s directors face more political pressure over school league tables than problem families.

In favouring structural solutions to the problems identified in the Climbié inquiry, the government has failed to address the main requirement of good child protection – being able to make risk assessments of chaotic families often in difficult circumstances.