Keeping count of the number of state databases either currently in existence, or those that are being given the final touches in the back-rooms of a governmental department, can be considered a fine art.
The latest of these ill-fated projects to make the news for all the wrong reasons is ContactPoint: the infamous £224 million child protection database, holding files on an estimated 11 million children and set to provide access to over 390,000 teachers, police officers and social workers when complete.
However, its planned launch has been put on hold for a third time after local authority staff discovered loopholes in the system designed to hide personal details of the most vulnerable young people – meaning that adopted children or those fleeing abusive homes could be tracked down.
Over the past year, staff at England’s 150 main councils have been going through their records for vulnerable children – such as the offspring of high-profile parents or those fleeing abuse – whose details should be “shielded” for their safety.
In November the Government declared that a pilot phase involving 20 councils and charities had been a success, and that the project will be taken up nationally.
But there have been at least three security breaches so far, in London, Staffordshire and Surrey, according to details obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
One “serious” breach involved two staff at Westminster City Council, where many politicians and public figures live, losing details of children that had been originally stored in an envelope.
A Government review of the security of Contactpoint, which they refused to publish in full, found the risk of a data breach could never be eliminated. While surprisingly honest, the admission only adds to the feeling that compiling this enormous database is fraught with dangers that far outweigh the benefits.
It was only recently that the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust named ContactPoint among the 11 public sector databases that are "almost certainly illegal".
Given that legality is utterly beyond the database culture in government, one would like to think that safeguarding vulnerable children from further suffering would be a higher priority – apparently not.
By Edward Hockings