NO to the surveillance State  

Harms not helps children and families

The Schools Bill will shift the balance of power substantially from family to State. It will significantly increase the surveillance that children and young people are under and of the distribution of their personal information.

The measures include mandatory registers for home educated and children thought to be missing education. Local authorities already have registers of these children. The measures in the Bill include extensive data gathering and distribution powers and will also include children already on Department for Education databases, those who flexi-schooled as well as some children in alternative provision.

The new government guidance on attendance, put on a statutory footing by the Schools Bill, includes the live attendance tracking. This gives the Department for Education the power to see in real time where eight million children are, which will be shared with agencies including the police.

These measures are dangerous in and of themselves. What is even more dangerous is that they are being discussed alongside unique identification numbers – national ID implemented via children – and in a time when our human rights and data rights protection are also under attack from the government.

“Why do Her Majesty’s Government believe that the Secretary of State has the absolute right to access information relating
to an individual child without providing a just reason?”

“the state could essentially snoop on parents without providing any justification for doing so.”

Lord Bishop of St Albans

“History has taught us that any form of surveillance and monitoring in schools, wrapped up as ‘safeguarding’, will harm Black children and young people. 

The Schools Bill has not even passed and we are seeing examples of parents criminalised, parents pitted against one another and punishment of parents who want to keep their children safe.”

No More Exclusions

“The Schools Bill will have a detrimental impact on Gypsy and Traveller children, young people and families. We are already disproportionately targeted by police and by Children’s Care, our children and young people need support, not yet more draconian powers used against us.”

York Travellers Trust

“The Schools Bill will have a detrimental impact on Gypsy and Traveller children, young people and families. We are already disproportionately targeted by police and by Children’s Care, our children and young people need support, not yet more draconian powers used against us.”

York Travellers Trust 

“The future data risks are concrete. With increased Schools Bill datafication of children comes increased risk of automation of service provision and decision making. This needs safeguards to prevent use in high-risk unsuitable systems, such as AI for predictive child protection.”

Counting Children briefing

The Department for Education have a poor track record with children’s data. Campaigners took them to court to challenge their handover of 1,500 children’s records every month to the Home Office to create a hostile environment for children of illegal immigrants. The Information Commissioner’s Office 2020 audit of them was damning. “The audit found that data protection was not being prioritised and this had severely impacted the DfE’s ability to comply with the UK’s data protection laws. A total of 139 recommendations for improvement were found, with over 60% classified as urgent or high priority.” 

The minutes from the May Attendance Action Alliance records that Deputy Director of the Attendance Division “reassured Alliance members that the Department’s medium-term aim with this data collection is to make it publicly accessible.” The data being discussed is children’s live attendance tracking.

Harms of big data and surveillance

 

  • Diverts social services away from supportive measures for families who need help.
    Collecting ever more information about ever larger numbers of children means that important information about children who are at risk of significant harm gets lost. This leads social work away from a supportive people centred model towards compliance with the needs of a standardised system and data capture. Such systems rely on ‘flags’ and risk prediction, leading to inaccurate analysis and to identification of risks where there is none and unnecessary and harmful State intervention.
  • Dangers of flagging of more children and young people as being ‘at risk’.
    An inevitable consequence of the claim that not being in school is a safeguarding issue will be the flagging within the system of home educated children and children who miss any sessions as being ‘at risk’, thus leading to the increased risks of intervention and all the attendant harms. The flagging of a child as ‘vulnerable’ in any way is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Agencies such as social services and the police treat children and young people differently because of the labels given to them, leading again to higher risk of intervention and to treatment such as child Q and large numbers of other children experience. For children who are already discriminated against the impacts are likely to be higher.
  • Lifelong repercussions and consequences of referral
    Even just a referral to social services – even though the majority amount to very little – has possible negative impacts. ‘Known to social services’ is a stigmatising label which stays with individuals through adulthood and increases the chance of State intervention. Those, for example, who are care experienced find themselves under considerably increased scrutiny if they become parents and at higher risk of their children being removed by the State.

 

  • Risk of inaccuracy of child protection information.
    The data is only as accurate as the person inputting it – it can be highly subjective, can include bias, hearsay, even fabrication – yet once it is included in databases it is treated as though it were objective fact. Children and families might not even know about the inaccurate information sitting on their records.
  • Impact on the behaviour of children and young people.
    Children and young people are not happy with their personal information being shared and are less likely to seek help or confide in adults if they are worried the information would not remain confidential.
  • Children not able to consent to data sharing.
    Within the social care system the ability of children to determine what happens to them is limited. Children cannot meaningfully consent nor object to anything that the State says is in their best interests. They aren’t asked about sharing their information nor informed about potential consequences, despite the risks of life altering and negative impacts. We have a responsibility to make sure that the systems we put in place for children do not expose them to unnecessary risk as the Schools Bill does.

“Children merit specific protection with regard to their personal data, as they may be less aware of the risks, consequences and safeguards concerned and their rights in relation to the processing…”

Recital 38 GDRP

“The model of registers is a model built for widgets not children. Social care is the work of people, it is human. Social workers work with families and the strengths are what you work with and build on, whereas the IT system records only the deficit because that is what they are programmed to record. It loses the richness of what makes up a family. And perhaps the social worker adds those as notes as appendices but then they are lost because that isn’t what the system records.”

Eileen Munro, Emeritus Professor

Myth of hidden children

Claims made by politicians and linked organisations that children are ‘hidden’, ‘invisible’, ‘ghost’ are being used to justify the need for State surveillance. Their arguments frame safety and visibility as being under the watch of the State, ignoring the fact that...

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