Monday, November 27, 2006

First they came for the children

In our report on children's databases to the Information Commissioner, we said:

A further sanity check is to translate child-welfare claims to an adult context and ask whether they make sense. For example, if a town had a problem on Saturday nights with drunken fighting, then the authorities might reason that fighting is associated with alcohol intake, with living in poor housing and with being in a community where hitting people is a badge of honour.

The logical conclusion would be forcible collection of data on alcohol consumption and its correlation by postcode; obtaining lists of suspects from pub landlords and police; and then a program of alcohol-awareness programs, anger-management classes and so on which all men scoring over a certain level would be required to attend regardless of whether they had ever been in a fight.

Examples like this make it clear that a distinction must be drawn between preventing crime where there is a specific, identified threat, and generally discriminating against groups of people in the name of general prevention.

And then, this morning, the Times says this:
Criminal profilers are drawing up a list of the 100 most dangerous murderers and rapists of the future even before they commit such crimes, The Times has learnt. The highly controversial database will be used by police and other agencies to target suspects before they can carry out a serious offence.
Sheesh, we were only joking! We didn't realise they were already planning the very thing we were holding up as ridiculous example. Perhaps if everyone paid a little more attention to what's happening to children, they might recognise a pilot project when they see it. Local Authorities have been identifying the '50 most likely to offend' amongst children for the last few years. We can safely say that all of the initiatives that are now alarming adults have already used children as crash-test dummies.

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