Sunday, May 21, 2006

'Big Brother' plan to store every baby on computer

EVERY newborn child in Edinburgh and the Lothians faces being stored on a "Big Brother-style" national database under a major shake-up of Scotland's child protection system.

The computerised files would be kept "live" until the child reaches the age of 16 and will include personal details of their health, family life and education.

The child's file will be closed when they reach 16, but it will then be kept on record for up to 75 years.

Teachers, police, GPs and social workers will be able to access the files to check for signs of abuse.

If the child is regularly late for school or their behaviour changes dramatically, the details could be put into the system where it is hoped it will build up a picture of the child's overall welfare.
But the move was described today by SNP justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill as another step towards Big Brother-style surveillance.

He said: "I find it rather ominous and I would want to know just what the possible benefits were. The safety of children is paramount, but this raises as many problems as it does solutions.
"Who will be able to access this information? It sounds very Big Brother-ish and raises many implications for people's privacy.

"A lot of assurances would be required as to what the proposed benefits were. It's all very Orwellian."

The national database is being planned by ministers to revolutionise information sharing between different agencies and improve protection for vulnerable children.
The move follows a series of high-profile cases of child protection failures in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

In March, two-year-old East Lothian boy Derek Doran died after drinking his parents' methadone. He had been found dead in his bed by his mother last December at their home at Elphinstone, near Tranent.

And last year, three-year-old Michael McGarrity was found alone in a Leith flat with the body of his drug-addict mother, having survived for six weeks on scraps of food.
In 2002, 11-week-old Caleb Ness died at the hands of his brain-damaged father after being released into the care of his drug-addict mother.

It is hoped the scheme will also see fewer young people referred to the Scottish Children's Reporter Association either for protection purposes or because of committing offences.
Last year more than 50,000 children were referred to the SCRA - a record figure.
The scheme is to be piloted in Highland Council from September 3 before being extended across the country, according to the Scottish Executive.

Every newborn child in the Highland region and around 500 Inverness schoolchildren will be logged into the system during the trial.

Families have been told they will be consulted about the nature of information that is held.
A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said: "Highland's experience will also be used to help other local authorities prepare for the roll-out of the new systems."

But a human rights expert warned the new system may be open to abuse.

John Scott, former head of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said: "The positive aspects of this are fairly obvious but bringing so much information into one place brings with it the scope for abuse.

"The important thing it to ensure there are very clear safeguards in place."

Source: Edinburgh Evening News

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