The Sunday Times

A DATABASE containing the personal details of 8m schoolchildren is being created without parents’ knowledge by one of Britain’s biggest contractors to government.

Information gathered by teachers on pupils across the country is being uploaded up to six times a day into a database called “One” that has been created by Capita, a company that specialises in providing IT systems.

Documents seen by The Sunday Times reveal that access to the data — which includes age, sex, address, academic record, absenteeism, special needs and bad behaviour leading to exclusion — can be provided to thousands of other officials including police, NHS staff and charities.

The existence of the One database, which is already used by about 100 local authorities, has emerged two years after ContactPoint, a national database set up by the Labour government and containing millions of children’s details, was scrapped by the coalition because of security concerns.

Documents on the One database state that classroom information gathered by teachers is used to provide “a golden thread of data” that can be accessed easily by all those working with children. It will be announced later this month that youth offending teams, which include police officers, will be offered access to the information.

This weekend the Information Commissioner’s Office said it would examine whether uploading personal details into One complied with data protection laws.

Most parents are not told that detailed information gathered on their child each day can be routinely shared with other agencies and may be held indefinitely.

Nick Pickles, director of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, described it as an invasion of privacy without proper safeguards: “This is creating by stealth a cradle-to-grave digital record of every single person. It is ContactPoint by another name.

“Parents will be shocked that they are being kept in the dark about how their child’s information is being gathered and exactly what it is being used for.”

Capita has provided school management systems called Sims for many years. Councils can now upload the data from Sims into the One database for use by other agencies.

Councils are using the software to upload individual pupil information with name, address and school records.

The council databases are held separately but can offer access to any officials wanting to examine a child’s background. The records could be integrated if required into one centralised database.

Capita says it can be used to draw data “up to six times a day” from the 22,000 schools that use its management service.

The firm licenses photographers to take pictures of schoolchildren. The photographs are offered for sale to parents before being uploaded into the Capita school management database. Teachers then compile information in an electronic file with the picture of the child.

The One software in council offices uploads the information every day, but not the photographs.

Another software program — called API — can allow external agencies to look at the children’s information.

Officials, such as social workers, can also add information into the One file. Capita says this may be mapping a child’s main personal connections and noting such details as whether there is a dangerous dog in the house.

At Swindon council, information on 48,000 pupils on its Capita One database is being shared with health officials at NHS Swindon and with youth offending teams. A council official said some of the information might be held indefinitely but it would be provided only to those who needed to see it, in line with data protection laws.

Capita Children’s Services, which designed Capita One, said the sharing of such information provides a “single view” of a child to identify those who are vulnerable and may need support.

Capita said it had no available information for parents about how its system worked because local authorities managed the data. It said schools and councils took data protection rules very seriously. “Very few” councils were using the software which enabled external agencies to search the data, it added. “Capita One is not a centralised database for the whole country,” it said.

The Department for Education said there were no plans to centralise the Capita One data. It said: “The department has no plans for any ContactPoint-style database.”

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

 

Published: 11 November 2012

 

Editorial

 

Databases that threaten our Freedom

 

The Sunday Times

 

When does the amount of information held on people move beyond what is acceptable data gathering, for the purposes of improving public policy, and into unacceptable intrusion? How much, in short, should the authorities know about us?

 

 

Today we report that Capita, the company to which local authorities and other bodies have outsourced many services, including data processing, is building a database containing the details of 8m schoolchildren. The information, which includes age, sex, educational attainment, bad behaviour and absenteeism, can be provided to the police, the National Health Service, charities and other bodies.

 

Capita’s so-called “One” database is a successor to ContactPoint, set up by the last Labour government to hold the details of millions of children but scrapped by the coalition because of concerns over security. Critics say “One” is essentially ContactPoint under another name and is creating a cradle-to-grave digital record of every person in the country.

 

Everybody accepts that collecting and storing some individual data is necessary. Public bodies are notoriously bad at sharing information, often with disastrous consequences. It is not clear how much of the information held on this database is necessary. But it is clear that most parents are unaware of how much is stored about their children.

 

There are, as we also report today, genuine concerns in parliament about unacceptable intrusion. Theresa May’s plan to allow the police and security services to monitor the emails, mobile phone calls and internet access of every citizen in Britain look certain to be torpedoed by a special pre-legislative committee of MPs and peers.

 

The home secretary’s proposals, which had the aim of enhancing national security, would have given the authorities unparalleled access to everyone’s private communications and were clearly intrusive. It is hard to disagree with the committee’s conclusion, that the proposals failed to strike the right balance between preserving individual liberties, preventing crime and protecting security.

 

Striking that balance is the challenge. Big Brother has the means to monitor every detail or our lives in a way even George Orwell could not have imagined. We need to be extremely careful about how much of it we allow.

 

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