From paedophilia to speeding, bureaucrats need a sense of proportion over the risks

Eamonn Butler writes in the Daily Telegraph, reflecting on why government bureaucracies seem obsessed with hoarding every last snippet of information about every individual:

Watford Borough Council’s decision to ban parents from the playground in case they are paedophiles are another case of the Bully State gone mad. We’ve seen it in the past week with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (whose .gov web address shows it to be anything but independent), telling piano teachers and others that they ought to get CRB checks, or parents might ask why not.

So now we are living in a Britain where all adults are presumed to be paedophiles unless they can prove themselves otherwise. It’s the precautionary principle gone mad. If you can’t prove something safe, you have to treat it as dangerous. That thinking also gave us the EU’s Reach directive, which prescribed in-depth tests on “hazardous chemicals” – such as salt – before they could be licensed for our use.

Why do bureaucrats act like this? Because there is no upside for them. A business person will take a risk because the chance of failure is balanced by the chance of making a fortune. Civil servants aren’t rewarded with fortunes when their decisions go right, but they are sidelined or barred from promotion when they go wrong. So they focus on stopping the downside, not boosting the upside.

Meanwhile, Tom Whitehead, writing in the same paper, reports a relevant court judgement:

The system of investigating people’s backgrounds for employment  vetting much be overhauled because it is wrongly “tilted” in favour of protecting the public, the Supreme Court concluded.

It said this meant that individual rights could be damaged by “unreliable” or “out of date” details, especially with the use of so-called soft intelligence held by police, such as allegations or suspicions, in enhanced Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks.

In a victory against the growing Big Brother state, the justices, in their first judgment since the Supreme Court opened in Britain earlier this month, said there should no longer be a “presumption for disclosure” of such information, which could be “even mere suspicion or hints of matters which are disputed by the applicant”.

The ruling goes to the very heart of the Government’s controversial new barring and vetting scheme, under which at least 11 million people will have to undergo enhanced checks if they want to work with children or vulnerable adults.

There are already concerns that the disclosure of unproven allegations could end the careers of effectively innocent people.

The full judgement can be read here.

DNA of innocents will be kept on database for six years

Jason Groves and Ian Drury write in the Daily Mail:

The DNA of innocent people could be stored for six years despite a court ruling that it is illegal.

Leaked emails reveal that Home Secretary Alan Johnson plans to defy the European Court of Human Rights by allowing police to keep swabs and fingerprints of those who are arrested but never convicted.

Even children cleared of any wrongdoing would have their DNA kept on a Government database for at least three years.

The emails also show that Mr Johnson is trying to recruit relatives of high-profile murder victims to help with the ‘media handling’ of the policy.

Meanwhile, the Alan Travis, writing in The Guardian, reports that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is pressing the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to withdraw guidance to chief constables to carry on collecting DNA profiles of innocent people:

The EHRC has given ACPO 28 days to confirm that the advice to chief constables will be withdrawn and replaced by advice that complies with the law. If ACPO fails to do this, the commission will consider taking formal enforcement action.

John Wadham, the commission’s legal director, said: “We can see no reason now why ACPO should not change its guidance on the retention of DNA. The commission recognises that ACPO had been put in a difficult position by the government by this issue, which is why we are offering them the opportunity now to amend their advice and avert future legal action.

“The police are at the forefront of the fight against crime. The importance of this fight cannot be underestimated but it should comply with the government’s legal obligation to protect the privacy of innocent people, as outlined by the European court.”

‘Child protection’ makes criminals of us all

Philip Johnston writes in The Daily Telegraph about the new Independent Safeguarding Authority, arguing that it reflects an official mindset that everyone is a potential criminal:

Child protection has become a vast, self-perpetuating industry whose very existence depends upon maintaining the fiction that all adults are potentially harmful to children. Perversely, even though most abusers are known to the abused, and children are most at risk from relatives or their friends, the new ISA scheme excludes family or private arrangements. What sort of society is it where adults suspect other adults, and children are taught to suspect anyone other than their parents, who are often the people who cause them greatest harm?

Adults who volunteer their time to coach children in sports, or run Scout and Guide organisations, or adventure outings are being put off doing so in their thousands. There are stories of people who have a conviction from childhood for stealing sweets from the village shop being told they cannot enter a scout hut to collect their own child. For those who have never been in trouble with the police and never will be, there is the ignominy of being subjected to a criminal check, the assumption being that they might offend one day. The hoary old justification that “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” just does not wash. Why should everyone be placed on a government database in the belief that they might turn out to be an offender? The same mentality seeks to justify retaining the DNA of innocent people on a database that now contains the profiles of 10 per cent of the population and seeks to make everyone possess an ID card.

ID card plan ‘needs 28m people to sign up to cover costs’

Jack Doyle writes in The Scotsman:

A TOTAL of 28 million people – more than half the adult population of the UK – would need to sign up for an ID card in order to cover the costs of the scheme, it was revealed yesterday.

Ministers, including Home Secretary Alan Johnson, have said scrapping the scheme would save nothing because it would effectively be self-financing. But figures released by the Conservatives revealed the estimate was based on huge levels of take-up over ten years.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said the prediction showed Mr Johnson was “utterly deluded”.