Security and Privacy
New children's database faces criticism
Jessica Shepherd, 26 January 2009 – guardian.co.uk
Doctors, social workers and police can look up details on every child in England on a
controversial database from today.
The £224m directory, called ContactPoint, holds the name, address, date of birth, GP and
school of all under-18s, and is aimed at helping professionals reach children they suspect are
at risk. It aims to prevent children falling into gaps between different services and was set up
in response to an inquiry into the murder of Victoria Climbié in 2000.
Victoria, 8, was tortured to death by her great-aunt and her great-aunt's boyfriend. Police,
doctors and social workers had been in contact with her while she was being abused.
Before today, if a social worker or police officer believed a child was at risk, there was no
immediate way of knowing whether other services had been in contact with the child.
The database will not hold information on a child's suspected abuse or family history, and
will be impossible to download. But it has attracted controversy from the outset, with civil
liberties groups, children's campaigners and the Information Commissioner concerned about
its scope and role.
The Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) wrote to officials in 2007 outlining
"significant" concerns about the database. Richard Stiff, the ADCS chair of information
systems and technology policy committee, said confusion over who is responsible for vetting
users and policing the system "may allow a situation where an abuser could be able to
access ContactPoint for illegitimate purposes with limited fear of any repercussions".
The children's secretary, Ed Balls, who announced the launch of the database today, said it
would help those who work with children to "prevent problems escalating". He said recent
cases had shown that a lack of "proper and timely information-sharing" could have tragic
Its launch comes after the death of 17-month-old boy Baby P in August 2007, who suffered a
catalogue of abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. Baby P was on an at-risk
register and had been seen some 60 times by social workers, doctors and welfare groups.
Balls said: "No system can ever guarantee that all children will be safe but we know
ContactPoint will make a real difference."
The Liberal Democrats have called for the "intrusive" database to be scrapped. The party's
children's spokesman, David Laws, said: "The fact that the rollout has already been delayed
because of technical issues does not bode well for the future. The government has shown it
can't be trusted with sensitive data. Parents have every right to demand that their children's
personal details are not put at risk."
Lord Laming, who chaired the Victoria Climbié inquiry, said ContactPoint would not replace
the need for children's services organisations to ensure "effective working across teams,
across services and agencies, including sharing information where this is appropriate". But
he added: "In time I believe ContactPoint will be an important tool in supporting this
practice, helping practitioners to know who else is working with a particular child, and
Security and Privacy
therefore contributing to the armoury of measures that we need to support children's
services in making sure children in England are safe and well."
Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo's, said: "Barnardo's is very supportive of
ContactPoint and encouraged by the progress made. We believe that the directory will
provide a quick way for authorised professionals to find out who else is working with a child;
making it easier to deliver more coordinated and better services, and helping us better to
identify children of particular vulnerability."
Security and Privacy
Fight against terror 'spells end of privacy'
Former security chief warns searching personal data will 'break moral rules'
Alan Travis, 25 February, 2009 – The Guardian
Privacy rights of innocent people will have to be sacrificed to give the security services
access to a sweeping range of personal data, one of the architects of the government's
national security strategy has warned.
Sir David Omand, the former Whitehall security and intelligence co-ordinator, sets out a
blueprint for the way the state will mine data - including travel information, phone records
and emails - held by public and private bodies and admits: "Finding out other people's
secrets is going to involve breaking everyday moral rules."
His paper provides the most candid assessment yet of the scale of Whitehall's ambitions for
a state database to track terrrorist groups. It argues that while the measures are essential,
public trust will be maintained only if such intrusive surveillance is carried out within a
strong framework of morality and human rights.
"Modern intelligence access will often involve intrusive methods of surveillance and
investigation, accepting that, in some respects this may have to be at the expense of some
aspects of privacy rights," he writes in a newly published Institute for Public Policy research
"This is a hard choice, and goes against current calls to curb the so-called surveillance society
- but it is greatly preferable to tinkering with the rule of law, or derogating from
fundamental human rights. Being able to demonstrate proper legal authorisation and
appropriate oversight of the use of such intrusive intelligence activity may become a major
future issue for the intelligence community, if the public at large is to be convinced of the
desirability of such intelligence capability."
Although Omand left the senior civil service in 2005, his views continue to reflect thinking at
the highest levels of Whitehall. In the paper - National Security Strategy, Implications for the
UK Intelligence Community - he says that a growing amount of intelligence to remove
extremists and disrupt potential terrorist attacks is now derived from "protected
information" - known in intelligence circles as "Protint".
"This is personal information about individuals that resides in databases such as advanced
passenger information, airline bookings, and other travel data, passport and biometric data,
immigration, identity and border records, criminal records and other governmental and
private sector data, including financial and telephone and other communications records.
"Such information may be held in national records, covered by data protection legislation,
but it might also be held offshore by other nations, or by global companies, and may or may
not be subject to international agreements. Access to such information, and in some cases
to the ability to apply data mining and pattern recognition software to databases, might well
be the key to effective pre-emption in future terrorist cases."
Omand says such sources have always been accessible to the police and security services
against a named suspect, but the use of modern data mining and processing methods
involves the examination of the innocent as well as the suspect to identify patterns of
interest for further investigation.
Security and Privacy
Privacy issues do arise, he says, over the use of sources of information on the movements
and activities of individuals revealed by technology such as CCTV and automatic number
plate readers - again complicated by the use of "smart recognition software" such as data-
He says that the significant challenge facing the intelligence community is how to access the
full range of personal data in a way that is timely, accurate, proportionate, legal and
acceptable in a democratic and free society.
Security and Privacy
Gun Database Ignites Debate in Tennessee
March 2, 2009 – The Associated Press
NASHVILLE (AP) — A Memphis newspaper has posted a searchable database of Tennesseans
with permits to carry concealed handguns, upsetting firearm owners and igniting a debate
on whether such information should be publicly available.
Gun owners say the database is an invasion of privacy and makes permit holders easy
targets for burglaries. They have flooded the newspaper with complaints — some 600 e-mail
messages a day — and threatened staff members and posted personal information about
The newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, added the database to its Web site in December.
The database did not draw attention, though, until an early February article about an
argument over a parking spot that ended with a motorist shot dead.
The editor, Chris Peck, said the paper added the database because newspapers should be a
thorough source for community information. Mr. Peck pointed to the recent shooting as
proof of why the database is valuable to readers.
After the shooting, a reader posted an online comment asking whether the suspect charged
with murder had a permit to carry a gun. The newspaper responded by directing readers to
“When that gun comes out in public, the citizens of Tennessee have a right to know,” Mr.
The database allows people to search for those who have a permit to carry a concealed
weapon by name, ZIP code or city. Mr. Peck said it is the most viewed item on the
newspaper’s Web site, with more than 65,000 page views per day.
“We haven’t done anything illegal or unethical,” Mr. Peck said, adding the paper had no
plans to remove the database.
The database has widened the rift between First and Second Amendment proponents.
The executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, calls the
database a “hateful, shameful form of public irresponsibility and the collapse of responsible
“Normal people don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘I wonder if my doctor, lawyer or my
kid’s teacher has a concealed carry gun permit?’ ” Mr. LaPierre said. “A normal person
wouldn’t say, ‘My right to information is more important than someone’s fear and safety.’ ”
Tennessee is one of 19 states that allow the public to have access to gun permit information,
according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. At least 21 states keep such
A bill before the Arkansas Legislature would close to public view that state’s list of concealed
weapon license holders.
Security and Privacy
The remaining states have no laws or court decisions that address the matter. Wisconsin
does not allow people to carry concealed weapons.
Florida, Ohio and Texas have passed laws in recent years to remove or restrict concealed-
weapon information from the public domain.
Security and Privacy
Did you know... new Pakistani laws against 'cyber terrorism' threaten death or prison to
satirists, spammers and activists alike
Fatima Bhutto, 11 February 2009 – Guardian.co.uk
Pakistan's so called democratic government has introduced a bill before parliament –
theprevention of electronic crimes ordinance – that aims to censor our already frightened
media and censured citizenry. According to the bill, anyone found guilty of "cyber terrorism"
– an undefined crime – is liable to face the death penalty.
The standards of what constitutes "cyber crimes" don't follow internationally recognised
standards; the government's vague bill threatens anyone guilty of "spoofing" or "spamming"
or the "character assassination" of any member of state with prison sentences. Any of the
articles I've written critical of my country's role in the war on terror or questioning the
corruption of the state could constitute "spoofing" (the bill doesn't elaborate on whether it
is satire that the Pakistan People's Party government is fundamentally opposed to or simply
The bill is an escalation of intimidation from the state. In October 2008 the government
announced that the terrorism wing of the country's Federal Investigation Authority would be
tasked with hunting down the "anti-democratic" forces that were circulating YouTube videos
and text messages aimed at discrediting the ruling party's politicians.
Because the press is muzzled, no voices were raised in protest at the announcement that
text messages had become treasonous devices in Pakistan. So now we have an actual law
about to be put into place, farcically silencing those of us who are not afraid to speak. I'm
almost certain I've assassinated some characters in the process of being a journalist –
Pakistan is, at present, the only country in the world run by two former criminals. The
president and prime minister, Asif Zardari and Yousef Raza Gilani, have both served time in
prison under a gamut of charges, including but not limited to murder, narcotics, corruption
Another odious bill, the national reconciliation ordinance, already passed in parliament has
cleared Pakistan's politicians of 20 years' worth of corruption cases against them and
includes a stipulation that will make it virtually impossible to file charges of misconduct
against any sitting parliamentarian. The NRO was used to clear Pakistan's ruling party
members of other crimes, surpassing our already crippled judiciary, and placing those in
power above the law. Criticism of the NRO was unsurprisingly muted in the Pakistani press.
Did you know that these 403 words could land me a jail sentence? I've spoofed, I've
defamed, and I've disseminated, all deadly crimes.
Security and Privacy
Privacy intrusion by gov't agencies needs tight reins
March 4, 2009 – The Star Phoenix
It seems a harmless intrusion into our privacy: A computer-based system to record and
check on our licence plates.
After all, these plates are put on our vehicles for all to see, just so police and other
authorities can be sure that proper insurance has been bought and the vehicle is legally
owned and operated. We recognize that the licence plate constitutes an invasion of our
privacy, but as long as it is impractical to use it for more than the intended purpose, it's
something we all accept.
But the Automated Licence Plate Recognition System now being tried out in various
locations throughout Saskatchewan takes that invasion to another level. By itself, even this
escalation might be deemed acceptable. However, citizens increasingly are being asked or
forced to surrender bits and pieces of their basic human right to privacy in order to meet
some public policy goal or another.
In promoting the notion of equipping police with the technology to check hundreds of
licence plates automatically every hour, Kwei Quaye, SGI's assistant vice-president of traffic
services, notes that this technology makes it easier to track down the thousands of
disqualified drivers who might be on the road in Saskatchewan.
The argument in favour of employing the technology boils down to the notion that the ends
justify the means. The arguments against its use -- that, like red-light cameras, photo radar
and the ubiquitous security surveillance equipment -- is that we are piece by piece
surrendering what it is that makes us human.
Society has been unable to balance the challenges presented when technological advances
come at a faster pace than do protections against their abuse. As long as such protections
are lacking, governments are quick to adopt the technology, particularly when they face
challenges to the status quo.
It's perhaps for that reason that Britain, for example, long has adopted such surveillance
techniques as licence plate recognition technology, monitoring of private digital
communications, and placing closed-circuit cameras all over the country.
Britain doesn't have a written constitution, a bill of rights or a privacy act, and its Human
Rights Act is loose enough to have allowed the country to install more than 4.2 million
closed-circuit security cameras (more than 400,000 in London alone) that capture the image
of each Briton an average of 300 times daily.
The British government initially argued these invasive security measures were needed to
protect citizens from IRA terrorist attacks and then maintained support for the system after
cameras caught the images in 1993 of two troubled 10-year-olds leading tiny Jamie Bulger
out of a shopping centre, to be eventually murdered. But there has been no illusion about
the effectiveness of this massive security apparatus in preventing terror attacks or most acts
of crime (the cameras apparently can be effective at reducing thefts or vandalism in car
Security and Privacy
Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, head of visual images at the New Scotland Yard, told
a conference last year that, in spite of the billions of pounds spent on Britain's surveillance
network, its impact on preventing or solving crimes is negligible (an estimated three per
cent) and can be described overall as "an utter fiasco." But rather than pull back on the
intrusions, governments tend to expand them to make up for their deficiencies. So, for
example, in most cases British police can eavesdrop on private phone calls without a judge's
Police there have been assembling a universal DNA data bank of all who come in contact
with them, even if the persons are never charged or convicted, and are working to match
that information with biometric data used on passports and identity cards, face-recognition
technology used on the television images, and even landline phone, cellphone and credit
card records to track individuals. As scary as it is to have a government service collect this
data, press reports suggest that images of people doing such common activities as littering
or being intoxicated in public -- even trying to commit suicide -- have become the staple of
reality TV crime shows.
What began as an invasive technology to combat terrorism has become a prurient
instrument of humiliation. And the benefits have been minimal, but as Shami Chakrabarti,
director of the human rights organization, Liberty, put it last year: "It's really a matter of
dignity, and what it means to be a human being."
Canadians are fortunate to have legislative and constitutional protections for our privacy,
but with the expansion of such technologies as red-light cameras, photo radar (which is
being contemplated for Saskatoon), closed-circuit cameras and now Automated Licence
Plate Recognition systems, it's time human rights were given the edge over technologies.
Governments should be required to go through much more strenuous controls before they
or their agencies are allowed to adopt such invasive measures.