Is there any point in having the word 'Confidential' in the dictionary?
Linking-up personal data is almost always a bad idea: the inefficiency of needing to make 'phone calls and get authorisation to perform a task for one individual, when half-a-second's worth of cross-database SQL could do it for thousands, is actually a valuable safeguard. Because sometimes it's better not to join up the dots; to let it lie undisturbed.
Now for some specifics, and a hypothetical... Just about *all* children with problems serious enough to need Social Services intervention and an entry on the 'At Risk' register get into trouble with the law at some point in their teenage years. I could wish that this wasn't the case, but it is.
What we've created is a monster, like an overbearing Chief Constable who decides to raid the needle exchange schemes and seize the records at addiction clinics: it's class 'A' drugs, they're all criminals, and we've got to uphold the law, haven't we? Identify them, arrest them, prosecute them and give them all a criminal record. Yes, it happens: there are Daily Mail readers in the Police, too, and plenty of them on the Police Committee. Democratic accountability has a downside, and even the best policemen are sometimes forced to do stupid and damaging things.
Now why would I call up such a shocking 'worst case' example of the misuse of power? Seeking help from Social Services - or, in the case of children on this new database, having help imposed on you - now carries a similar risk: nothing as overt as an immediate arrest, but if you ever were helped by the Social, you're an easy lookup on an all-too-convenient list of suspects and the Police can use the file to come knocking on your door every time they're short of the target for clear-up rates. And the courts will use it in evidence against you; your employers - prospective and present - will get hold of it; the press will get hold of it (Petition organiser has secret shame!!! Everyone who campaigns against our advertisers is a filthy pervert who was arrested at age 14!!!); blackmailers will get hold of it. Your wife's divorce lawyer will get hold of it. And all the time, you will have to declare it and answer intrusive questions, every time you interact with officialdom, justifying yourself over and over again.
The core principle of our youth justice system is a belief - admittedly, somewhat naive - that the young are malleable, that young offenders can make a fresh start: what you did when you were legally a child will be dealt with *at the time* and that will be the end of the matter. Whatever it was, if it happened when you were legally a child, you are not deemed to be culpable to the same degree as an adult would be, and you will not be held to account throughout your adult life for your actions. Which is to say: the record is *closed* and the follies of your youth are a confidential matter between you and your guardians, and the law will leave it be.
That freedom is now gone. We've just torn up an essential right to grow up, be declared an adult, and be free of a bad childhood. Three hundred and thirty thousand people will have all the access that they want, to everything you did before you were 18. That is to say: everyone who matters, everyone who has power over your life and work.
Why not save all the consultancy fees and go back to branding them on the cheek?
No, wait... Our barbaric forefathers didn't do that to children.
Note, also, that although criminal offences are the point-of-access for this invasion, those three hundred thousand people will have access to everything you did. Criminal or not. Dealt with by the school, or the care home, or by referral to the Local Authority's educational psychology unit: everything.
The word 'confidential' may as well be deleted from the dictionary. What a terrible price for being helped by the Social Services.
As some readers have pointed out, you and I have nothing to fear. I sincerely hope that this was irony.
Now for an ugly hypothetical: Social Workers are called-in, in all cases of incest and underage sex. This is probably he most sensitive work that anyone does, anywhere, and it, too, is surely on the database: this is, after all, a criminal matter. Take the worst case: school-age girls (and, in all probability, boys) working as prostitutes out of the care homes in a city in the Midlands. Yes, they got picked up by the Police. Repeatedly. Now what? Can the courts refer to them, years later, as 'A common Prostitute' if they are picked up by the Police, walking home alone in a dodgy area? Can the defence in a rape trial use this data?
What will the less-scrupulous individuals on that third-of-a-million people with access to the 'confidential' data make of it?