Free information index
This Government index will put every child in Britain at risk (unless their parents are celebrities or politicians)
By EILEEN FAIRWEATHER
A Labour initiative with profoundly sinister implications for British children and parents has been set up so quietly that, until last week when independent-minded Government consultants spoke out, few even knew about the totalitarian surveillance planned for them.
Unless, that is, they had chanced upon a Department for Education website document reassuringly titled Every Child Matters.
Wade through its endless New Labour pieties and verbiage and you will eventually realise the most intimate aspects of our children's lives are to be centrally recorded and monitored by thousands of State functionaries.
The Children's Index is to be launched in England and Wales in 2008. It is already being 'trialled' by 12 local authorities at a cost of £241million.
Ministers say that to protect children from harm, and identify potential criminal offenders, the State must gather and scrutinise everything known about Britain's 12million children and their families.
Information held in separate local databases - GP records, nursery reports, children's exam results and answers to new tests supposed to indicate anti-social tendencies - will be intertwined on one Big Brother system, tracking Britons from birth to adulthood.
From next year, schools must also submit a 'spine' of more than 40 items of information on a child, from address and parents' marital status to ethnicity and eligibility for free school meals.
A parent's depression, divorce or addiction problems will be "flagged" as warning signs: two will be enough to trigger an investigation.
This acutely sensitive information will be available, Schools Minister Lord Adonis admits, to an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 State employees.
Doctors, teachers, nursery, youth and social workers, police, counsellors, probation officers, school nurses and health visitors will, for the first time, be free to access each other's files; patient and teacher/parent confidentiality will be destroyed.
An independent assessment of the scheme, ordered by the Government's Information Commissioner, will be published next month prior to 'public consultation'.
To the Government's embarrassment, several experts last week pre-empted a New Labour, New Stalinist "done deal" by announcing that the index was a terrifying invasion of privacy.
There may be legal challenges - civil rights organisation Liberty suggests that it breaches British, European and UN conventions on privacy. There is even talk of non-compliance from concerned professionals and parents.
Worse, a growing number of experts believe the index will endanger children because it will be accessed by paedophiles.
For, perversely, the very professions to have access to it are those professions that have always attracted paedophiles.
Cambridge professor Ross Anderson, an information security expert, says: "There will always be technical failures, bent insiders and people of evil intent who will try to use databases once they're built ... for example, paedophiles.
"That's why it's important to compartmentalise. If you connect all these systems together, as soon as you've got one bad employee you've sold the farm."
I have investigated child abuse scandals for nearly 20 years and interviewed many paedophiles.
Most, I am certain, will feel that, with the index, all their birthdays have come at once. It will help them identify vulnerable children, plant malicious lies to discredit those who might speak up and discover - and possibly intimidate - those already doing so.
Paranoid? Sadly not. I have seen children's files manipulated in this way time and again - particularly in Islington, the London borough whose 12 children's homes were infiltrated by child sex-ring procurers while Margaret Hodge was council leader.
How ironic the index is her legacy, shepherded in while she was Children's Minister.
Does she still not understand how paedophiles operate? Many choose work with children, targeting councils, schools, hospitals and the police.
They spend months, sometimes years, plotting the three stages of their classically addictive behaviour.
First, they "target" a victim, selecting one - or several - they desire but also judge vulnerable. The index will also flag "problem" or vulnerable parents.
Such data can easily be abused by those who want to insinuate themselves into a troubled family as pseudo-protective father figures - often the second step of a paedophile's plan.
The third stage, of actual abuse, can be short: paedophiles relish new conquests. But child abuse is high stakes. How helpful for the index to let paedophiles spy on whether earlier victims have "disclosed" and must be silenced.
Schools Minister Lord Adonis concedes that "celebrities" and politicians can bar their children's personal information.
It is, of course, a crass and impractical let out clause. It is pretty outrageous to suggest that the sons and daughters of the Cabinet - and presumably the offspring of Big Brother and X Factor winners - will have their confidentiality protected.
The rest of us, meanwhile, have to pray our details don't get into the "wrong hands".
The Government reassures us that all workers with access to the Children's Index have undergone Criminal Records Bureau checks.
So what? Dr Harold Shipman was officially blemish-free, while paedophiles on prison therapy programmes on average hurt 200 children before being caught.
The index was conceived after the murder in 2000 of Victoria Climbie by her aunt. Its creators said the case proved more information and file-sharing were needed.
But I undertook the journalistic investigation that exposed how Haringey social services ordered a junior social worker to stop visiting Victoria. The problem was not inadequate data but stupid people.
The Government ministers who launched the index doubtless believe it will ensure child safety. They cannot see the dangers as their instincts remain Stalinist - to control through information.
They also refuse to learn from past mistakes. The Islington children's homes scandal perfectly illustrates this.
Demetrious Panton, the highly respected Islington abuse survivor who bravely challenged Margaret Hodge's appointment as Children's Minister, was famously attacked by her, in a secret letter to the BBC, which branded him "extremely disturbed".
She refused to explain why. Later, I found a four-page report about Demetrious, written when he was ten. The author was Bernie Bain, the boss of his children's home, who was later described by police as a "brutal sexual abuser".
Bain had no qualifications but claimed that Demetrious was "disturbed", exhibited "Freud's obsessional/compulsive character" and was a fantasist and a liar.
Bain copied this to Demetrious's social worker, head teacher, counsellor and his own boss, in order to discredit him.
It worked. The paedophile's damning verdict coloured how Demetrious was seen throughout the years. It is remarkable he survived the trauma.
Back on the social-work frontline, resources, training and staff have been slashed and the Child Protection Register - which genuinely protects children - is being abolished.
Instead, millions of pounds are being diverted to pen-pushers, IT experts, consultants and "assessors", leaving Britain's children over-surveilled and under-protected.
This, as they grow up in a world Labour has made violent, decadent and incomprehensible, thanks to dumbed-down education, freely available drugs, booze and gambling.
Liberty's Shami Chakrabarti warns: "In this authoritarian age, it's very easy to say, 'Nothing to hide, nothing to fear'.
"Actually, we all have something to hide or protect, not criminality but our basic dignity."
How long before the nanny state tests our children's ' political correctness' and punishes parents who pass on old-fashioned ideals about freedom of thought?
Let us protest while we still may.
Join us in campaigning for equality and justice.