Memorandum submitted by the Action on
Rights for Children
1. During the past five years, developments
in IT have created unprecedented opportunities for observing children
and young people, for supervising and controlling their activities,
and for gathering and sharing data about their lives.
2. Manufacturers of commercially-available
devices have exploited the marketing opportunities presented by
popular concerns such as child abduction, obesity and bullying,
while the government's "risk management" approach to
children's policy has emphasised the use of IT solutions to monitor
and share information about children in an attempt to detect early
signs of problems. In-depth assessment and profiling tools have
been developed that are believed to predict potential criminality,
social exclusion or educational failure on the basis of statistical
3. Taken together, these developments have
significantly eroded children's privacy rights, guaranteed by
Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and reiterated
by Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It is now possible for a child to be under near-constant scrutiny
throughout each day.
4. Because the expansion in the use of IT
has been piecemeal, there has been no overview of the possible
combined effect on children's development of the various technologies.
There is certainly the potential for children to become conditioned
to accept a far higher level of surveillance than society now
tolerates. Given that privacy and decisions about self-disclosure
are a powerful means of regulating our relationships with others,
consideration needs also to be given to the effects of surveillance
on a child's maturing sense of personal boundaries and autonomy.
5. It should also be borne in mind that
over-confidence in technological solutions and poor standards
of information security can threaten the integrity of children's
personal information, and may even place children at increased
risk of harm from hacking and careless or corrupt disclosure of
data by those with legitimate access.
6. The wide range of children's databases
and assessment processes is extensively covered in the FIPR report
to the Information Commissioner: Children's DatabasesSafety
and Privacy available online at: http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/documents/library/data_protection/detailed_specialist_guides/ico_issues_paper_protecting_chidrenspersonal_information.pdf
7. Given the limitations of space, the complexity
of the entire database system and the large number of data protection,
human rights and consent issues that it raises, we cannot possibly
do justice to the subject matter here. We believe that it would
be more helpful to the Committee for our briefing to concentrate
on the other areas that affect children's privacy. However, the
Director of ARCH is a co-author of the above report and it therefore
provides an accurate reflection of our views and concerns. We
respectfully suggest that Committee members consider it essential
CCTV and Webcams
8. There is increasing use of CCTV in schools,
and monitors may even be placed in pupils' toilets. Images can
be relayed via Internet Protocols to control centres located outside
school, where they are accessible to local council staff.
9. There is also a growing trend towards
using webcams in nurseries to enable parents to view their children
via a password-protected internet system. As the webcam monitors
an entire room, all parents can see all of the children at any
Some systems allow parents to nominate others, for example grandparents
and family friends, who may view the webcam. Parents cannot therefore
know who else is watching their child.
10. Children are not asked to consent to
the use of CCTV. In the case of nursery webcams, all of the advertising
concentrates on the psychological benefits to parents. No consideration
is given to children's dignity and privacy, nor to the fact that,
while parents may feel involved in their child's day, this is
not a reciprocal relationship.
11. Electronic systems are increasingly
used in school canteens to monitor children's individual school
meal choices, and in school libraries, where children's reading
habits can be monitored individually, and also by ethnicity and
gender. Many of these systems use children's fingerprints, which
are converted into an algorithm that is stored on the school system.
Some schools are also introducing fingerprint scanners for school
12. There is mounting protest that children's
fingerprints are being taken without parental consent, and concerns
that templates are transferable between systems.
This raises the possibility that the data could be used by other
agencies for other purposes. Although manufacturers claim that
a child's fingerprint cannot be reconstructed from the algorithm,
this is a red herring; all fingerprint systems now use algorithms
derived from a fingerprint, rather than the fingerprint itself.
13. Because the data is held on school computers
in relatively insecure buildings, its security cannot be guaranteed.
Burglary and theft from schools is not uncommon, and the growing
importance of biometrics is likely to make databases that hold
biometric data a target for organised crime. Manufacturers offer
assurances that the data is encrypted using 128-bit encryption
techniques, but developments in computing will undoubtedly render
such assurances meaningless within a short time. Even if a child's
data could be considered safe today, it is unlikely to remain
so, and the problem is exacerbated if schools do not ensure the
complete deletion of data from a computer hard-drive.
14. We have been told that "guidelines"
for schools on the use of children's fingerprints will be published
on the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency
website during May; however, these will not in any way be binding
on schools. We remain deeply concerned that children's biometric
data may be compromised by theft; that the data may be misused,
and that children will become habituated to giving up their biometric
data far too readily. In our view, the increasing importance of
biometrics for security-critical functions means that they should
not be used for low-level purposes.
15. There are a number of companies selling
location based services to parents. These purport to enable parents
to track children via their mobile phones, by logging on to a
website that displays the whereabouts of the phone. Parents can
also pre-set boundaries and routes, and receive alerts if their
child deviates from them.
16. A new generation of GPS tracking devices
and mobile phones is now coming on to the market; we are told
is about to launch a major marketing programme that will see its
`i-kids' tracking phone placed on sale in supermarkets and High
Street stores. We are also aware of a device called the "KinderGuard"
currently under development: a location device that also includes
biometric sensors to transmit details of a child's heart rate
and skin temperature to parents. This indicates when a child is
under stress, and also lets parents know if their child has removed
17. There is no statutory regulation of
any of the above devices, beyond the Data Protection Act 1998.
Providers of mobile location services have agreed a voluntary
code of practice,
but this does not include any requirement that service providers
should undergo police checks. An attempt to amend to the Safeguarding
Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 to introduce such a requirement was
resisted by government. 
18. Although the code says that devices:
"should not be marketed in any way which exploits parents'
concern or fear that their child may become a victim of crime",
it is clear that some companies are very close to this line.
19. On 4 April 2004, police powers were
extended to allow DNA profiles, fingerprints and other information
to be taken without consent from anyone arrested on suspicion
of a `recordable offence'. The police may keep this information
indefinitely, even if the person arrested is never charged, or
is subsequently acquitted.
20. With the help of MPs and the Children's
Commissioners, we have made repeated but unsuccessful efforts
to obtain accurate Home Office figures for the number of children
on the National DNA Database (NDNAD) who:
(a) did not receive any disposal or further
(b) received a reprimand or final warning.
21. Using the Youth Justice Board figures
for juvenile arrests and disposals, we believe it is possible
that DNA profiles of around 200,000 children who have received
no disposal may be on NDNAD, and a further 200,000 profiles of
children who have received reprimands or final warnings.
22. The existence of a child's profile on
NDNAD puts the onus on him/her to justify the presence of his/her
DNA at a crime scene, and may lead to unwarranted suspicion. Although
this is equally true of adults, children are at far greater risk
of injustice. Almost one quarter of arrests are of 10-17-year-olds,
and the range of databases holding sensitive information about
them has considerable potential to prejudice the position of those
whose records include predictions of the likelihood of future
criminality. We are profoundly concerned that whenever a positive
DNA match is made, the police will access other information held
on the child, and that this will create a set of assumptions that
will influence police attitudes, including the likelihood of guilt.
23. It is extremely important that children
and young people are kept out of the youth justice system unless
there are no other options left, and recognition of this fact
has led to the reprimand and final warning schemes. There is also
a growing body of evidence that arrest and/or questioning by the
police has negative effects on young people's behaviour. The Edinburgh
Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, a ten-year longtitudinal
study of 4,000 young people that began in 1998, found that:
"...being caught by the police had a
particularly strong influence on whether young people gave up
delinquency entirely: the more times they had been caught by the
police, the less likely it was that their level of delinquency
would be zero at either sweep 5 or sweep 6."
The explanation offered for this finding is
that young people find it very hard to escape from being labelled
"criminal". There is a real risk that the presence of
a young person's profile on NDNAD will lead to disproportionate
police interest and questioning when there is no other evidence
of involvement, and lead to increasing anger and alienation on
the part of the young person.
24. We are concerned that speculative familial
searches are being conducted on NDNAD. This has the potential
to cause great difficulty and distress to those children whose
paternity is not as they had assumed,
those who are adopted, and those who have changed their identity
because they are escaping domestic violence or are subject to
25. In our view, it is entirely wrong to
retain the DNA of children and young people who have not had any
action taken against them, or who have been acquitted by a court.
26. Retaining the DNA profiles of those
who receive reprimands and final warnings defeats the purpose
of the scheme, which is to prevent young people from entering
the youth justice system for low-level, often first, offences.
It increases the likelihood of further contact with the police
and risks "locking in" young people to the criminal
justice system, rather than providing them with an opportunity
to change their behaviour before they are faced with more serious
27. Where a child has been convicted of
an offence in the courts, we believe that DNA profiles should
only be retained in line with the Rehabilitation of Offenders
197 See for example: http://www.surveillancenewsportal.com/surveillance_news.asp?articleid=26640&arttitle=Alarm-triggered%20CCTV%20systems%20increase%20security%20at%20Wigan%20school Back
Example: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23392356-details/Big+Mother+is+watching+you/article.do Back
Extensive information can be found at: http://www.leavethemkidsalone.com/ Back
Kim Cameron, Architect of Identity and Access, Microsoft Connected
Systems Division http://www.identityblog.com/?p=743 See also various
posts between 27 March-1 April. Back
Code of Practice for the use of passive location services in
the UK: http://www.mobilebroadbandgroup.com/documents/UKCoP_location_servs_210706v_pub_clean.pdf Back
Commons Hansard 23 October 2006 Col 1244: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmhansrd/cm061023/debtext/61023-0005.htm Back
See eg Childlocate website front page: http://www.childlocate.co.uk/ Back
Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime: "Social
Inclusion and Early Desistance from Crime" David J Smith: Back
BBC News "Who's the Daddy?": http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3023513.stm Back