3..2..1…and ContactPoint is gone

ContactPoint, the Government database holding information on every single child in the country, was turned off at noon today.

Critics argued that the huge national database was disproportionate and the money spent on holding that information on children could better be spent on something else.

Supporters saw it meeting a need and if just one child was saved, who could say that was wrong.

Whether you think it’s the right or the wrong decision (and I’m in the “right” camp, on balance) there’s no denying it shows political bravery.

As an incoming government, it would have been easy to fudge the issue. The future of ContactPoint could have been kicked into the long grass – just ignored or handed over to some committee or commission.

The risk of closing down ContactPoint is that, when a child does come to harm, the cry will be “It’s the Government’s fault – if only ContactPoint were still here, she would still be alive today.”

It’s a charge that has to be considered. In any area of life, more authoritarian systems and rules can work, and we judge whether they’re worth it.

Problems include the errors that creep into large databases, the high cost  (money that could be spent on more social workers, perhaps), the potential for the lives of wholly innocent people to be disrupted and the risk of data getting into the hands of paedophiles and other criminals.

The Government has not only judged that the intrusiveness, cost and problems with ContactPoint outweigh the benefits, but has acted on it, and acted decisively. As the Coalition look to roll back thirteen years of Labour authoritarianism, that at least has to be a very positive sign.

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53 Comments

  • “just ignored or handed over to some committee or commission.”

    In other words- all the questions you ask about its effectiveness and whether it’s cost-effective could have been investigated before scrapping it?

    “As the Coalition look to roll back thirteen years of Labour authoritarianism, that at least has to be a very positive sign.”

    This from a government seeking further anti-union laws and various poor bashing policies.

    “If thou consent to freedom for the rich in the City and givest freedom to the freeholders in the country, and to priests and lawyers and lords of manors… and yet allowest the poor no freedom, thou art a declared hypocrite.”

  • Not saying there hasn’t, evidently that debate wasn’t over (well, it is now). It takes no bravery to scrap something for populist reasons.You’re too quick to brand initiatives “authoritarian”, that word has been completely misused over the years. Detention without trial, yes, though all parties agree to it just not the extent. A database of information that anyone could find out if they wanted to anyway, so that different services could liaise and more effectively meet the needs of society’s most vulnerable children, is not authoritarian.

    Argue the point for whether it’s effective, sure, but to contort authoritarianism to include such a thing is to build an entirely false narrative and create a moral outrage for no good reason.

  • There is an article on this in the Independent.

    “,,however important this “data protection” issue, scrapping the database without presenting an immediate alternative – or even plans for an eventual solution–, clearly puts demands for privacy protection before child protection.”

    http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2010/08/06/choosing-data-protection-over-child-protection/

  • How pathetic to see Mike, the Labour troll, defend every authoritarian waste of money and infringement on civil liberties that Labour did. Mike, could you please give us all a laugh by attempting to defend, in your comical manner, the following:

    – the Iraq war
    – tuition fees then top-up fees
    – control orders
    – child immigrant detention
    – ID cards
    – 28 days (90 days if you had your way!) detention without trial
    – trials without juries
    – the vetting and barring scheme
    – ASBOs
    – section 44 of the anti-terrorism act

    etc etc.

    Pull the other one, Mike!

  • This will be seen as a monumental mistake within 2 years. The next time a child is harmed due to inter-agency confusion, the Coalition will be directly to blame.

    The Government has not only judged that the intrusiveness, cost and problems with ContactPoint outweigh the benefits, but has acted on it, and acted decisively. As the Coalition look to roll back thirteen years of Labour authoritarianism, that at least has to be a very positive sign.

    Liberalism should not be used as an excuse to make children less safe.

    I’m saddened that Liberal Democrats see this as a very positive sign.

  • Blanco – don’t be an idiot.

    Mike’s point is perfectly valid.

    Lib Dems are a little too quick to list Labour offences. The Party is not considering the consequences of this latest decision. It will haunt us for years to come.

    This database deserved a chance to be proved successful – or at the very least replaced with an idea of how to protect children.

  • James from Durham 6th Aug '10 - 2:17pm

    Undoubtedly there will be a horrifying incident within the next couple of years in which a child suffers serious harm. There will be those who will say that if this scheme had continued, the incident could have been prevented. I am not able to comment with knowledge about this particular scheme, but the uncomfortable truth is that no matter how many procedures and databases you set up, it will never be possible to prevent every catastrophe. With hindsight it is easy to see that if this or that had been done, things would have happened differently. Governments have to balance different risks as do we all. I just get the feeling that for some people, no matter how costly or ineffective the scheme, they will cry foul, because the scheme would make a difference at some point in the future for somebody. But maybe the resources would be better directed?

  • Jeremy Hargreaves 6th Aug '10 - 2:27pm

    This is absolutely the right thing to do and I’m delighted the coalition has done it. And thank you especially to Andrew Tennant for pointing out what I was about to write – that “child protection” while obviously one of the most important things that government can do, cannot be just a blanket cover for any authoritarian interventionist neo-socialist idea that any government comes up with.

    And it does take a socialist’s faith to believe that just because every child’s every last movement is logged on a database somewhere, that will in reality mean on the ground that children will be better protected.

    And that’s even before we get on to the mere “civil liberties concerns” that trusting every one of the many thousands of individuals who will have access to all the intimate details of every child on the database, could lead to even greater abuses than the ones they are trying to prevent.

    I’m sure that in place of ContactPoint people will need to adjust systems, and of course we need systems to protect children which are actually effective – but that is not a reason to persist with a system that is thoroughly wrong.

  • @blanco: Changing the subject, of course, I guess you can’t defend the actions of your party so you want to take it out on me?

    -Iraq War-
    I didn’t support it, and tentatively (I’m no expert) agree with the idea that Blair and others like Jack Straw intentionally misled the public and the rest of the Labour party, which I don’t support either. This, however, was a situation that was never going to have a happy ending and the alternatives may have been worse- and I’d rather an official multilateral war than a CIA backed coup with death squads and a replacement dictatorship. A war fought by the US alone may have allowed us to be smug for having known better, but I doubt it would have been better for the Iraqi people.

    – tuition fees then top-up fees-
    Not under the heading of authoritarianism, but hell- it’s minor. I’d rather a graduate tax but plenty of people just treat uni like a club 18-30 holiday, so I don’t know. It’s not some kind of great injustice, but if there’s a better way to fund higher education for as many people as would like to recieve it then it should be explored.

    — control orders-
    In principle, I’m not a fan. I’m also not a fan of letting innocent people lose their lives when it can be prevented- control orders when used as intended, to keep a watch on people who the government has secret intelligence on, are entirely reasonable. I’d rather innocent people live with a control order for a bit than for innocent people to lose their lives permanently. Again, this is a situation that has no perfectly moral choice- if you have intelligence that someone may be planning an atrocity, should the government look the other way? When used improperly and without justification, they are wrong.

    — child immigrant detention-
    Also wrong. Better than what we’ve heard your government wants today though. I’m not a fan of strict immigration controls in the first place, but if we have them I would prefer alternative methods than detention- like tagging- as a necessary evil.

    – ID cards-
    As indifferent to these as I am to my drivers licence. I know people who bought them because they would be useful, I chose not to because I didn’t need one.

    – 28 days (90 days if you had your way!) detention without trial-
    Not a fan of. All parties agree to it in principle however, they only differ in duration. It boils down to what length is most practical and I don’t have the specialist knowledge of terrorism that would allow me to know what length is appropriate.

    – trials without juries-
    There are situations in which a trial with a jury is less fair and less likely to deliver justice than otherwise.

    — the vetting and barring scheme-
    I agree with in principle, if it’s proven to be less effective than an alternative then the alternative should be favoured, of course. There are some people who it is irresponsible to allow to work with children and the vulnerable.

    – ASBOs-
    Again, agree in principle. Low level crime is often better dealt with in this way than some kind of Zero Tolerance lock ’em up policy, and definately better than doing nothing.

    — section 44 of the anti-terrorism act-
    Had to google what exactly this was, you could have just said stop and search. Disagree in principle, but if it’s proven to be useful there’s an argument that it’s a small evil that can prevent greater evils. It inconveniences people, but if evidence shows that it is effective at preventing a much greater inconvenience then it’s fine by me. If evidence doesn’t show that, there’s no need for it.

    Has that helped at all? Or did you just want to troll me and divert me from this issue?

  • @Andrew Tennant and Jeremy Hargreaves:

    Are you in favour of individual agencies collecting information then, or are agencies supposed to operate blind? If an agency holding information is “authoritarian”, how is that any less “authoritarian” than one consolidated database that all agencies that need information can access?

    Hell, as far as I know Amazon.co.uk has about as much information on me as the government.

  • Okay, I zoned out after this shit-

    “Won’t someone please think of the children?

    Presumably this is the go to justification for any authoritarian action? Want to ban adults from being out on the street – it keeps children safer. Want to stop anyone volunteering in a school without giving a DNA sample – it keeps children safer. Want to take all children away from their parents until they pass a state approved parenting exam – it keeps children safer.”

  • @Andrew Tennant: Fine, I zoned out after this nonsense:

    “Won’t someone please think of the children?

    Presumably this is the go to justification for any authoritarian action? Want to ban adults from being out on the street – it keeps children safer. Want to stop anyone volunteering in a school without giving a DNA sample – it keeps children safer. Want to take all children away from their parents until they pass a state approved parenting exam – it keeps children safer.”

    On this you agree with Labour- but you still had to have a dig because being Labour they couldn’t possibly support it for the same logical reasons *you* do, it *must* be because they’re in favour of banning adults from the street. Why bother reading Labour’s reasons when you can presume it’s because Labour are naturally evil for the sake of it?

  • I thought it had been modded out for saying “shit”, is the reason for the double post.

  • “Won’t someone please think of the children?

    Presumably this is the go to justification for any authoritarian action?”

    Why even say this if you don’t think it’s authoritarian? There’s nothing in the second paragraph that says you support it or anything like that. You’re talking out of your arse.

  • I could not be happier that last week I left this party of confused idealogues.

    You’re clearly quite bonkers, the lot of you.

    You deserve Dave as your leader.

  • @Andrew Tennant: So my question to you was perfectly valid. If you agree with the thrust of this article that it’s authoritarian, regardless of whether you agree with it on a practical level (which I was supposed to know, how? Am I psychic?), what makes it an authoritarian-yet-practical measure as opposed to individual agencies keeping their own records?

    How does the “won’t someone think of the children” stuff apply here if you also think it’s justified? Why mock Labour for something that you then say you agree with? Do Liberals have an insult Labour quota? A one-minute hate decreed by the leadership?

  • @Andrew Tennant: It’s a simple question, it takes much more effort to dodge it than to answer it straight-

    Are multiple databases held by individual agencies less authoritarian than one consolidated database that contains the same information?

  • @Andrew Tenant.

    Believe it if you like, I don’t really mind. I should be on a list saying “party resignation” somewhere. I wonder if this Dave-a-thon website will publish figures on that.

    Mike is asking a rather simple question. Care to answer it?

    I’m expecting another list of the Labour Party’s misdemeanours. it’s always worked in the past on Lib Dem voice hasn’t it?

    Spiderman’s Nan said it first: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Liberals seem to have forgotten that since May.

  • @Andrew Tennant: Yes or no. Are they less “authoritarian”?

  • You’re creating a false dichotomy though, I’d guess you don’t work in or have much knowledge of this field; throughout ContactPoint’s existence different agencies have maintained their own databases; ContactPoint was never intended to replace them.

    I work in the field every day. Want to polish your medals in this direction?
    My view is it’s better than having nothing, until there are workarounds, but that it’s Labour’s authoritarianism that made it as all-encompassing and invasive as it was and need not be.
    ContactPoint had a purpose that the individual databases can’t + won’t provide. Instead of shouting INTRUSION LABOUR AUTHORITAN EVIL how about something more sensible – self-realisation that Clegg + Dave are doing things with the social services with no thought for what happens next. In your wonderful self-aggrandising liberalism you forget that you may not like ContactPoint’s data-sets – but it’s intention was something people in our positions needed.

    In your petty politicking, you’re confusing Labour-bashing with having an actual purpose. The name-calling and barbarous posts are just silly.

  • You know i always find it ironic when people complain about surveillance ,id cards and civil liberties but then set up pages on facebook and post their details on the biggest surveillance device known to man I.E. the internet,whithin seconds of searching i can find out that Simon McGrath is a failed lib dem council candidate and that Andrew Tennant was one too,so much for civil liberties Eh?

  • Oh Republica.

    My Friday is complete.

    Thank you so much. It all makes sense now.

  • @Cuse..your very welcome and never forget acceptance of dissent is the fundamental requirement of a free society.

  • Foregone Conclusion 6th Aug '10 - 5:09pm

    Although it’s uncertain exactly what exactly will replace ContactPoint, there will be something. It isn’t simply ‘protect children by using an exhaustative, national database that holds the details of every child in the country’ and ‘do nothing’. The Government has said that there will be ‘a new national signposting service which would focus on helping practitioners find out whether another practitioner is working, or has previously worked, in another authority area with the same vulnerable child’, which would probably satisfy the need that ContactPoint was designed to fulfil.

    http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2010/08/06/contact-point-switched-off-but-child-welfare-concerns-remain/

    I should also say that this change is also the independently held policy of Liberal Youth, many of whose members are under the age of 18 and so are directly affected by the existence of the database and its termination.

  • @Jeremy Hargreaves – Really – Amazon knows the detail of what was discussed every time you’ve ever visited a doctor?..well no but the nhs database will do and as i understand will continue to be used which completely contradicts the Liberal Democrat position outlined this year, when Norman Lamb, then Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “The Government needs to end its obsession with massive central databases. The NHS IT scheme has been a disastrous waste of money and the national programme should be abandoned.”
    you can’t have it both ways or can you?

  • Shouldn’t the ‘new national signposting service’ have been put in place before Contact Point was switched off?

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Aug '10 - 6:00pm

    Andrew Tennant: I can’t make head nor tail of what you are saynig. It’s OK for *you* to support ContactPoint, but others who do so deserve to be mocked and parodied?

    The only thing this thread proves (yet again) is that few people nowadays seem to know what the word “authoritarian” actually means.

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Aug '10 - 6:09pm

    blanco: That’s a nice list of things the government has already indicated it’s going to fudge on. I look forward to your inevitable comments here in the future telling us why control orders and child detention are actually a jolly good thing afterall. The only thing they have “delivered” on so far is ID cards – but since the ID cards were completely voluntary (and little used), the civil liberties implications of them were nil.

    Have you by any chance seen Damian Green’s less-than-emphatic comments on child detention today?

  • Foregone Conclusion 6th Aug '10 - 6:31pm

    AndrewR: I agree that that should probably be the case. My greatest single worry about the government so far has been the way that often good intentions are often badly translated into action – thus the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ being announced without any plans for what should replace them. I think this is inevitable with a new government determined upon radical change, however.

  • I think there IS an issue about intention, ie a database which is set up to genuinely try to address the issues happening again and again with child cruelty and lack of proper inter-agency working. BUT any large database can create problems with leakage of info to the “wrong” people etc. As a Liberal, I have no problem with professionals giving “tough” advice to people including to me – that is often their role. IDO think it is important that good quality feedback (not swearing and violence) should be enabled to be given back. Surely it goes without saying that professionals involved should be able to share the information they need. None of this is in itself, authoritarian, it is more about the attitudes of those concerned which sometimes need changing – inflexible, patronising, arrogant etc.

  • Stuart Mitchell 6th Aug '10 - 8:44pm

    Andrew: “Is that appropriately clear for you?”

    No, it’s less so. Do you think that ContactPoint was an “authoritarian action”, or wasn’t it?

  • Christine Headley 6th Aug '10 - 9:38pm

    Getting rid of ContactPoint was in the LibDem manifesto.

  • Andrew Suffield 6th Aug '10 - 10:11pm

    Aside from being gratuitous surveillance and privacy invasion, let’s not forget that ContactPoint was a gratuitous waste of money that accomplished precisely nothing.

    Children are not safer when you have their name and address in a huge database. That just does not work.

  • David Allen 6th Aug '10 - 10:39pm

    “As the Coalition look to roll back thirteen years of Labour authoritarianism, that at least has to be a very positive sign.”

    Totally disagree. Yes, Labour did a lot of things for stupid stupid political reasons, to show everybody what marvellous people they were – because they could change things, and make lots of laws, and generally throw their weight around, and boast about their own exquisite wonderfulness.

    And you know what? When we go around ruthlessly expunging any trace of anything Labour ever did, without stopping to bother to think whether it might have been a good idea or a bad idea, we have sunk to just the same depths of political depravity.

  • @Andrew Suffield: “Mike, the more centralised the information and power, the more authoritarian; the more widely distributed, indiscreet and indiscriminate, the more open to abuse; I stress again, it’s fairly simple.”

    Why exactly does a centralised database mean it’s more “authoritarian”? Stating its so as if its a universal truth does not help at all. Why are you supposedly more free with multiple public organizations trying to keep the same information than with ContactPoint?

    I hear a lot of “ContactPoint was probably this and the other” in this thread. All we can go on is “probably” because it has been scrapped without sufficient investigation. ContactPoint wasn’t any more authoritarian than whatever will replace it, or whatever exists without a replacement. It should have been judged on its effectiveness. But we don’t know how effective it was- we’ve been unable to learn from it- because of the way it has ended.

  • Mike – generally I agree with you that there has been far too much use of the word “authoritarian” here. But I think it is fairly well-established that malign influences would find it much easier to take over large centralised databases than every one of a large number of smaller databases. The large one also carries more clout, and would be “respected” and looked to generally more than smaller ones. This is where the argument comes from – and I think because it is so widely accepted, I think the onus is on you to show considerable evidence to the contrary to disprove the argument generally, not on those such as Andrew Suffield, who use the argument extensively.

    Personally, I am much more likely to listen to Alistair’s argument over how effective it has been or was likely to be when compared with the cost, and diversion of resources to perhaps more worthwhile projects?

  • @Tim13: Paedophiles overwhelmingly target either a child they know, or a random child who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve yet to hear a single instance of a paedophile hacking into and making use of a system like ContactPoint.

    @Tim13 and Alistair: I’ve already said multiple times that it should be judged on effectiveness- I don’t know whether it was effective or not. You’re perfectly free to speculate on its impact and whether it was cost-effective.

    My problem is with the fact that it has been taken off the table purely to fund a narrative that the government is a de-authoritarianising force, by being quick to apply the authoritarian label to such things without good reason.

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