Skip

"children should be wary of all adults – unless they're government-approved?"
July 15, 2009 7:44 PM   Subscribe

A group of respected British children's authors and illustrators will stop visiting schools from the start of the next academic year, in protest at a new government scheme that requires them to register on a database in case they pose a danger to children.
"In essence, I'm being asked to pay £64 to prove that I am not a paedophile."
posted by orthogonality (139 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The repressiveness going on in the UK is really starting to scare me, to the point that I don't even want to go there, even to visit.
The level their much-loved tabloids are written on doesn't help much, either.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:48 PM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yeah, just when I think the U.S is leading the way into the shitter, the U.K. goes and one-ups us.
posted by Xoebe at 7:50 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


£64 says all the paedos register. Although why anyone needs a registry of children's doctors is beyond me.
posted by GuyZero at 7:52 PM on July 15, 2009


"In essence, I'm being asked to pay £64 to prove that I am not a paedophile."

Christ. I usually pay a lot more.
posted by smoke at 7:57 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Daily Mail Headline Generator. PEDO AUTHORS AVOID THE LAW?
posted by Avenger at 7:57 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish I had something more insightful to say, but... wow... How about we have all the muslims register as non-terrorists? All the motorcycle owners as non-gangmembers? Fuck, let's just have everyone register as general non-lawbreakers and have done with it.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:58 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


My daughter's (US) elementary school makes every single parent who wants to come into the classroom or go on field trips submit to a police background check every two years. We don't have to pay for it, but the whole thing disgusts me.

It's a hideous invasion of privacy for one (as if the school deserves to know if some parent has a criminal past,) I think it creates an false sense of security for two (not every molester gets caught and adjudicated, after all,) but also? What if they found out some parent DID have a record of child molestation? They're going to keep sending that child home to a child molester every day, so long as they stay away from the other kids?

That's not protecting children, that's simply covering their asses.
posted by headspace at 7:58 PM on July 15, 2009 [33 favorites]


Brought to you by Capita Group PLC? Why, yes.

I'm hopeful that the government isn't actually so stupid and illiberal as to think this is useful and necessary, just so corrupt that they would introduce a makework scheme for their friends in these difficult economic times.
posted by Sova at 7:58 PM on July 15, 2009


Yeah, just when I think the U.S is leading the way into the shitter, the U.K. goes and one-ups us.

The UK leads the US by a decade which leads Canada by a decade.

What I want to know is which country is following Canada by about three decades, so that I can move to a country that I would actually like to be in. obligatory "fucking stephen harper [spit]" goes here
posted by five fresh fish at 8:02 PM on July 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


1) Nice souce of cash there, Don Corleone! 2) Considering the hard penalties for offenders as mentioned at the end of the article, I can see a great future for the many wrongly non-vetted (of course there's going to be a whole bunch of mistakes, duh, government database program?) 3) Anyone knows what goes involved in the vetting? Too much cursing on your blog is enough to blacklist you?

As a non-British puzzled foreigner who's not likely to be around there (just because I can't afford the trip), may I dare to point out that your government is seriously starting to give me the creeps?
posted by Iosephus at 8:05 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


So exactly when can we start expecting V to show up?
posted by oddman at 8:16 PM on July 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


In a previous role in my job, I had to run police background checks on all our newly appointed faculty, which is required by state law (and we're required to pay for despite being a state agency).

99% of the checks return no record. The 1% that do are because the person has a common name, and so you get a list of every "John Smith" who has a police record in the state, none of whom have a matching SSN or birth date.

There are thousands of these checks run on campus every year at $10 apiece. As far as I know, there has been no positive match on any faculty appointment in any department where the faculty member has not disclosed the offense already.

I wish they do away with them.
posted by dw at 8:22 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is awful.

The repressiveness going on in the UK is really starting to scare me, to the point that I don't even want to go there, even to visit.

Agreed. It's a shame that I never got to see London before this shit started happening.
posted by spitefulcrow at 8:23 PM on July 15, 2009


So exactly when can we start expecting V to show up?

I'd move to country full of sexy bald Natalie Portmans, repressive government or not.
posted by rokusan at 8:29 PM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


Outragefilter.

The real questions here are:

1) Who is making these laws, and why?
2) How do we get them to stop?

These are country-neutral questions. US, UK, Australia, doesn't matter. Why? And more importantly, what the hell do we do about it?
posted by Maximian at 8:30 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]



My daughter's (US) elementary school makes every single parent who wants to come into the classroom or go on field trips submit to a police background check every two years. We don't have to pay for it, but the whole thing disgusts me.

Really? You sure WE don't have to pay for it?
posted by notreally at 8:32 PM on July 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


Most or all Australian states have mandatory "working with children" checks (but I think these are aimed at permanent staff, not visitors).

If these authors spend a significant part of their time going from school to school, I can't see why they should be exempted from such checks. I'd expect the same kind of rule to apply to, say, Catholic priests who rotate from one school to another for scripture lessons.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:33 PM on July 15, 2009


What's most galling about it is that it's security theater -- even if even one of these writers posed a genuine danger to the children, it wouldn't matter because their interactions would supervised by the teachers anyhow. It pisses people off, sows paranoia, and doesn't even accomplish anything useful. Would you guys like to take a used color-coded terror warning off our hands while you're at it? It doesn't really do anything, but the lights are very pretty.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:37 PM on July 15, 2009 [7 favorites]


Really? You sure WE don't have to pay for it?

The police here run them for free- you can get them done on your babysitter too, if you have their license. So while yes, our taxes are paying for the police to exist, the department does not charge for this particular service in my area.

Yet.
posted by headspace at 8:39 PM on July 15, 2009


It is, and I am not wishing to come across conspiracy-theoriest here, part of the New World Order plan.

This is not going to affect any of us particularly much. It is aimed at children, who are going to be growing up believing this state of affairs is normal. They will never have known differently, so this sort of thing and more will not freak them out.

The next generation is going to believe being watched 24/7 by police cameras is normal. They're going to believe not being able to take photographs in public is normal. They're going to be completely used to having not one whit of privacy.

Shockingly, they will be even more passive than our generation(s) are.

If you aren't already a multi-millionaire, your children and children's children are doomed to neo-serfism.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 PM on July 15, 2009 [15 favorites]


So exactly when can we start expecting V to show up?

Probably only after the Paedofinder General makes his frightful entrance.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:46 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


They doth protest too much, methinks.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:47 PM on July 15, 2009


To be fair, Philip Pullman has written graphic depictions in which the young protagonist experiences something strange happening to her body. She found a stirring at the roots of her hair: she found herself breathing faster. She had never been on a roller-coaster, or anything like one, but if she had, she would have recognized the sensations in her breast: they were exciting and frightening at the same time, and she had not the slightest idea why. The sensation continued, and deepened, and changed, as more parts of her body found themselves affected too. She felt as if she had been handed the key to a great house she hadn't known was there, a house that was somehow inside her, and as she turned the key, deep in the darkness of the building she felt other doors opening too, and lights coming on. She sat trembling, hugging her knees, hardly daring to breathe. Ban this sick filth I say.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:48 PM on July 15, 2009 [5 favorites]


You know, I'm a big fan of NWO paranoia fantasies, but I don't understand the problems here. Well, that's not true - I think it is shitty that they're making people pay for these background checks. But this seems like a fairly nonintrusive way of vetting people who might interact with children. Yes, I understand that it's gigantically rare that a stranger will be a molester, but hell, this really doesn't seem to be hurting anyone, does it?
posted by TypographicalError at 8:59 PM on July 15, 2009


This may be unpopular, but I salute this program with all my heart and soul. Our children must be protected from all potential offenders in any way possible -- by any means necessary. We all know about Britain's growing pedophile problem, don't we?
posted by ford and the prefects at 9:01 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


Jesus. This country has problems with a system that makes actual pedophiles register into a database. The fuck are they thinking over there?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:02 PM on July 15, 2009


As UbiRoivas pointed out, this is pretty much standard in Australia. It applies to staff and volunteers in Child-Related Occupational Field . Parents of children who are involved in the activity are exempt. Children's book authors who engage in PR exercises in classrooms are not, and should consider the $76.10 fee the price of a captive audience to whom they can promote their books.
posted by robcorr at 9:02 PM on July 15, 2009


1) Who is making these laws, and why?

In very general terms, you only put chains on things you fear, or want to exploit.
posted by Malor at 9:05 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


The repressiveness going on in the UK is really starting to scare me, to the point that I don't even want to go there, even to visit.

No kidding. Although I suspect that someone in the U.K. would say the same thing about America. But the diffrence seems to be that while all kinds of bullshit has been pulled by the U.S. government recently, it's all been directed at the Other, that is at people accused of being terrorists with muslim sounding names. In the U.K the people being repressed

Yes, I understand that it's gigantically rare that a stranger will be a molester, but hell, this really doesn't seem to be hurting anyone, does it?

The author makes the following complaint:
What I really hate about this database is the way it poisons the very special relationship that exists between children and the authors they admire. What sort of sick mind could whisper that there might be something suspect in that relationship, that children should be wary of all adults – unless they're government-approved?
The problem with the law is not it's practice, but it's symbolism: that adults are so dangerous to children, all so teeming with perversion that they have to be vetted in order to go near them. It's just a fucked up mentality.
posted by delmoi at 9:10 PM on July 15, 2009 [11 favorites]


Most or all Australian states have mandatory "working with children" checks (but I think these are aimed at permanent staff, not visitors).

If these authors spend a significant part of their time going from school to school, I can't see why they should be exempted from such checks. I'd expect the same kind of rule to apply to, say, Catholic priests who rotate from one school to another for scripture lessons.


This scheme is additional to police checks for permanent and temporary staff, known in the UK as Criminal Record Bureau Disclosures (or just CRBs for short). They were introduced about 2002, and replaced a previous system of police checks, but more or less do the same thing by listing previous offences by running your details through a national database. There was some opposition to CRBs when they were introduced, partly due to the cost and complexity, but also because the system was extended to broader groups than previously. It seemed as though anybody who wanted to volunteer in school, even a parent, had to go through this process, and the system was deluged, with some taking months and months to come through. Given that the school risked its insurance by leaving children alone with people who had not been CRBed, it caused a big headache when a teacher - new or old - was still waiting for theirs.

The opposition eventually died down because schools got used to the cost and better at scheduling these checks to be done on volunteers and staff, and really it wasn't much different to the previous police checks. But this new scheme seems like something else. Where CRBs are a limited-time document that allow you complete and trusted access to children, somebody who had not been vetted in this new system would be forbidden access to a school itself, regardless of the amount or type of contact they have with the pupils. It isn't a case that we're checking the people who we entrust children to, we're saying that nobody should be in the presence of children unless proven safe. Unless you're willing to give up your privacy to this scheme, you should expect to be treated with suspicion.

Reading the actual website for this though, I hope the schools have interpreted it too strictly. Currently people can visit schools as long as they're not left alone with children, but remain in the presence of somebody with a valid CRB. However, I fear schools would rather lose visitors like these authors than risk a claim against them, which is very sad. There's no real gain here for the safety of the children, but a very real loss to their education. I suppose that all people can do is boycott the scheme and refuse to volunteer in positions which it newly covers. Make it clear that even a small loss of privacy is unjustified in this case.
posted by Sova at 9:11 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Have to echo UbiRoivas and robcorr's sentiment. You might call it "boiled frogs theory" but, being Australian, I can't see what all the fuss is about.

Almost everyone in such a situation needs a Working with Children card, and often a separate police clearance to boot [don't ask me why, surely information for the two would be gleaned from the same source?].

So what makes these authors so freakin' special if "normal" people have to jump thru the same hoops?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:18 PM on July 15, 2009


delmoi: "The problem with the law is not it's practice, but it's symbolism: that adults are so dangerous to children, all so teeming with perversion that they have to be vetted in order to go near them. It's just a fucked up mentality."

That is a way of interpreting it. Personally, I feel like it's just a "better safe than sorry" rule. It's like wearing a bike helmet - just because that's mandatory or highly recommended doesn't imply that riding a bike without one will surely result in heinous head injury. It is a possibility, and since wearing a helmet doesn't cost you anything, why not do it anyways?
posted by TypographicalError at 9:19 PM on July 15, 2009


Also, I am imagining that this thread is going to be about two different topics that people are going to conflate:

1) whether this law is appropriate for the mass of humanity and
2) whether this law is appropriate for children's authors.

Personally, I think that the law is appropriate to apply to most people, and I think that making a special exception for every Tom, Dick, and Harry that'll get their panties in a twist over it is a losing proposition.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:24 PM on July 15, 2009


That is a way of interpreting it. Personally, I feel like it's just a "better safe than sorry" rule. It's like wearing a bike helmet - just because that's mandatory or highly recommended doesn't imply that riding a bike without one will surely result in heinous head injury. It is a possibility, and since wearing a helmet doesn't cost you anything, why not do it anyways?

Because we're talking about people, not cement. There is a huge difference between protecting against relatively likely accidents and treating people like prospective pedophiles. The system is only cost free if you don't mind being treated that way.
posted by delmoi at 9:27 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


At least someone is finally thinking of the children! And not in that special way!
posted by maxwelton at 9:29 PM on July 15, 2009


Wow.

Couldn't disagree with TypographicalError more. Why not search homes of people who make under $30K a year randomly to look for drugs and stolen merchandise? Better safe than sorry right?

Your logical fallacy here, if you still don't know what I'm getitng at, is the unstated major premise you gloss over which is that putting adults in this database has no costs, social or otherwise.
posted by floam at 9:29 PM on July 15, 2009 [5 favorites]




1. Give police authority.
2. Wait for police to abuse authority.
3. Expand police authority.
4. Repeat

What could go wrong?
posted by acro at 9:35 PM on July 15, 2009 [4 favorites]


"If they are barred, they will go on a separate register and it will be a criminal offence for them to try and obtain work in a regulated field, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. It will also be illegal for anyone to employ them."

The last sentence is what I have a problem with. Who do they mean by "anyone?" Suddenly, those barred by the vetting process can't work? Certainly poorly worded, as I believe they mean "It will also be illegal for any regulated entity to employ them." Still, it seems an awful lot like yet another step into the realm of 1984.
posted by neewom at 9:35 PM on July 15, 2009


1) whether this law is appropriate for the mass of humanity and
2) whether this law is appropriate for children's authors.


I don't think this law is appropriate for the "mass of humanity" I think its ridiculous. It's treating children like hazardous material or state secrets or something. It might make sense to run background checks for adults who are going to be alone with children a lot (like teachers and the school nurse, etc), but building a whole pre-cleared database, etc, is over the top.
posted by delmoi at 9:38 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know how every encroachment on privacy is said to be the thin edge of the wedge? That people will become accustomed to it, and be more likely to accept the next encroachment just down the track? And how it ends up as Big Brother by stealth?

Well, I think we Aussies here are good evidence of that.

Because, like the others, I'm thinking "Duh, it's just a Working With Children card; what's the fuss? It's basically the same as getting a Drivers Licence. Of course they check that you haven't been banned from driving for repeat DUIs in the past 10 years..."

(and also "It's almost time for afternoon canetoad tea")
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:47 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm being asked to pay £64 to prove that I am not a paedophile.

Worst. Prostitution angle. Ever.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:47 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


In my county, the school board says we have to do background checks and fingerprinting if we are ever going to be alone with any children, and we DO have to pay for it. You can be what is known as an unsupervised volunteer, which means you can assist a background-checked volunteer, but you can't take kids to the bathroom, etc.

The most absurd part of the policy is that they require you to be fingerprinted every two or thee years you volunteer. Read that again--it's not just the background check every few years, but they actually make you go in and get fingerprinted again, as if your fingerprints have changed since the last time. Maybe they throw the old fingerprint sets out? I don't know, but nothing really surprises me any more.

Every year, I have to fill out a new health card for my kids. Everyone has to do this, even if their address and contact info hasn't changed (we've lived in the same house for 14 years).

But when and if anything happens to the kids, they always call my husband's work number first, though I'm home and it says I'm the first contact. So I figure they don't read them at all.

Under special health conditions we should be aware of, I've started putting things like "my son has superpowers and can shoot lasers from his eyes".

I have never, not once, had anyone comment on this.
posted by misha at 9:49 PM on July 15, 2009 [30 favorites]


This is... I want to say insane, but it's not: within its own pathology, this is a very logical outgrowth of a floating, pervasive paranoia, a feeling that "you can't be too careful" deliberately maintained by the UK government, albeit one far more familiar in the context of terrorism.

First - does anyone in their right mind not think that publishers do not do background checks on their own authors? That at the very least, publishers and editors, with the hundreds of contact hours that go into taking a book to print, are a better arbiter of which authors might be pedophiles? Does anyone honestly believe that if there was even an inkling that an author was sexually attracted to pre-teens that any publisher would touch them, or their work for children, with a 10-foot pole?

Furthermore, anytime you allow the security apparatus of the state into education you inevitably introduce censorship and surveillance, either deliberately through legislation, or because someone in the process has an over-developed sense of righteousness. Right now, it's the bogeyman of "pedophiles are anyone who loves or cares for children who are not their own" - the single woman in the park watching children play, the children's author, the man who helps a lost child in a supermarket.

But background checks are so insidious. Caught in a consensual relationship that is legal here and now, but wasn't there or then? Keep them away from kids. As a naive and passionateness youth, were you a member of a group for environmental activism that, while perfectly legal, is lumped in as a possible vector for "terrorism"? Have a job denied. Spoke a controversial political opinion at a rally that was recorded? Keep them away from kids - we don't want them exposed to ideas that are "different".
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:50 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought this was what the sex offender's registry was FOR? Cry all you want, but that's the least you can do to keep predators out of influential positions.

I'm not sure why it should cost so much money though. Oh wait. The mountains of temporary admin staff employed in various branches of the government that cost the taxpayer at least £20 an hour. That's why.
posted by saturnine at 9:52 PM on July 15, 2009


Best headline I've seen related to this story: J.K. Rowling Must Register as a Potential Pedophile
posted by Slothrup at 9:55 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem with the law is not it's practice, but it's symbolism: that adults are so dangerous to children, all so teeming with perversion that they have to be vetted in order to go near them. It's just a fucked up mentality.

Unless, of course, the authors went to one of England's famous Public Schools.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:55 PM on July 15, 2009


This is insane. These are not people who are left alone with the children or responsible for the children. Having an author come to class is an interaction more or less like the interaction the kids would have with a guide at a museum.

Hmmm... I suppose this will apply to museum guides as well.
posted by Wood at 9:56 PM on July 15, 2009


Under special health conditions we should be aware of, I've started putting things like "my son has superpowers and can shoot lasers from his eyes".

I have never, not once, had anyone comment on this.


That'll be because they handed the file directly to the Dept of Homeland Security.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:58 PM on July 15, 2009


When one of my kids' favorite authors visited their elementary school, and they even had a chance to talk to him individually, it had a tremendous affect on them. They still talk about it years later. They got a new found respect for books and writing that will be with them for the rest of their lives.

There are other schools in the are that bring in chamber orchestras to play for classes.

The should do a simple cost/benefit analysis. Bringing in talented visitors to classrooms in a supervised atmosphere has tremendous benefits to the children. What are the cost/benefits of this large visitor fee and registration? Cost: many artists will just not pay the fee and will stop visiting schools. The tremendous learning experience for the children will be lost. Benefit?
.
.
.
...... benefit???
posted by eye of newt at 10:01 PM on July 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think people miss the most obvious driver of all of this insanity. Cost. It's just getting cheaper and cheaper. 20 years ago - 1989, a database like this would have been pretty expensive, But today how much could it cost? It could be handled in a MySQL database on a netbook, if you're not too worried about reliability (and do you think they are?) Now of course they'll spend a ton of money on cronies and the like but the underlying cost just isn't that much. And the research is far different too. Rather then going through court records, you just need to hook into a public database.

In fact, people were talking about the cost of doing criminal background checks. In my state the cost of doing a background check yourself is zero, anyone can go online and look up every citation and court case a person has been involved in, including traffic tickets and lawsuits. You can do it for free just by knowing a person's name, all online. It wouldn't even be that hard to screen scrape that and do searchers on vast sets of people if you wanted too.

This year the dorm I lived in as a student got security cameras. Supposedly they'll only be reviewed if something happens, rather then being 'actively monitored' (yeah right). 20 years ago, how much would it have cost? Quite a bit. These days you can get a bunch of web cams and terabytes for a few hundred dollars.

Biometric database, facial recognition systems, genetic databases, the cost of all of this is dropping quickly due to mores law. I've become somewhat fatalistic about all of this, most people don't really seem to care, and the government is taking these steps not because of a creeping authoritarianism, but because the lower cost technology has liberated them to be as oppressive as they like.
posted by delmoi at 10:06 PM on July 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


The societal patterns of manifesting their unfounded and erratic fears -- from background checks to encouraged collective paranoia as a first line thought about anyone or at least any male within sight of their kid -- in relation to stranger-mediated sexual molestation of children is the group's way of silencing the guilty truth that the majority of attacks are actually perpetrated by family members of the child.
posted by peacay at 10:10 PM on July 15, 2009 [6 favorites]


Very interesting to read these reactions. I work in a public library & have had to do these police checks every few years as part of the job. As a parent myself, my attitude was: well, that makes sense I suppose, I am going to be around children a lot. I worked as a security guard during university, and I had to get a special permit from the OPP (provincial police) for that, so this didn't seem so different.

It surprises me to say this, but I've never thought of such checks as an invasion of privacy or anything of the kind. Society places an importance on certain things, and legislates such safety checks as it sees beneficial for the society: firefighters are hopefully not firebugs, police are ideally not violently sadistic, nuclear power plant operators really ought not to be in the employ of foreign governments, and people working with children should not include those charged with molesting them.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:13 PM on July 15, 2009


Admittedly, I would not put children's authors in the same category.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:16 PM on July 15, 2009


floam: "Wow.

Couldn't disagree with TypographicalError more. Why not search homes of people who make under $30K a year randomly to look for drugs and stolen merchandise? Better safe than sorry right?

Your logical fallacy here, if you still don't know what I'm getitng at, is the unstated major premise you gloss over which is that putting adults in this database has no costs, social or otherwise.
"

What cost, really? This is not the same as searching someone's home - it's putting a name into a computer search field and hitting a button. A search of one's home will turn up personal items that someone has a reasonable right to keep private, whereas a search of a criminal database will only turn up occurences of criminal acts which are public facts in any case.

Your logical fallacy here, if you don't know what I'm getting at, is your analogy blows.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:16 PM on July 15, 2009


This paedophile paranoia is going out of hand.
posted by zouhair at 10:34 PM on July 15, 2009


I think people miss the most obvious driver of all of this insanity. Cost. It's just getting cheaper and cheaper.

I'm certainly well aware of that - storage, processing power, comms & the decreasing cost of integration all play a part.

Integration may even be the most important. In Australia, we have a Government agency called Crimtrac, which is basically a data integrator for the various State, Territory & Federal police forces. You'd think that integrating the data from roughly nine separate jurisdictions would be a relatively simple task, but they've been at it for years, and are apparently only slowly approaching a unified national view of peoples' criminal records - the politics of fiefdoms play a part, but moreso are the technological silos: different platforms & data structures, especially.

Extrapolate that to somewhere like the US, and a few short years ago people would've thrown up their arms in despair over the immensity of the task, but with current integration technologies, pulling data together from these kinds of disparate silos suddenly becomes relatively cheap to do - cheap enough that the perceived cost-benefit can come out positive.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:54 PM on July 15, 2009


and a data point: at the school i attended, there were *at least* two teachers with well-known paedo tendencies. one, thankfully, i missed - he was something like the deputy headmaster for the kids up to grade 6, and *every* boy who went to the preparatory school knew about him.

the other, well, it was mild, but still creepy. like, explaining something to you, he'd always lay his hand on your thigh or in the small of your back. and he loved making 'jokey' comments about genitals.

then there were the phys ed teachers, who made it mandatory for us to shower naked, and would mill around in the change rooms.

i'd like to think that today's kids would be more empowered to squeal on that kind of behaviour, but "paedo panic" or not, schools are like honeypots to bees for people who want a bit of underage action, and people wanting to frequent them should rightly be subjected to a level of scrutiny.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:59 PM on July 15, 2009


Horza, I agree with your general point. But:

Does anyone honestly believe that if there was even an inkling that an author was sexually attracted to pre-teens that any publisher would touch them, or their work for children, with a 10-foot pole?

Piers Anthony? (Not asserting the dude is a pedophile, only that there exists some perception that he might be)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:06 PM on July 15, 2009


whereas a search of a criminal database will only turn up occurences of criminal acts which are public facts in any case

...and occurrences of criminal acts performed by others with similar names, or who use an alias similar to your name, and occurrences of criminal acts performed by others with names not even remotely similar to yours but that turn up anyway, and possibly criminal acts for which you were arrested but not charged or were acquitted, or for which someone with a name similar to yours was arrested but not convicted.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:10 PM on July 15, 2009 [3 favorites]


2) How do we get them to stop?

I fear it wont anytime soon. These policies seem to always get pushed through on the wholly emotional pull of, "Such-and-such new policy will save our children!" just attach a cute, nine year old poster girl, and the job is done without any real substantial discussion of details or overall impact.

Not that I'm saying good policies don't go through, but using an almost wholly emotional appeal to add more bureaucracy seems both insulting and disturbing.
posted by Avelwood at 11:19 PM on July 15, 2009


...and occurrences of criminal acts performed by others with similar names, or who use an alias similar to your name, and occurrences of criminal acts performed by others with names not even remotely similar to yours but that turn up anyway

Sorry, but you're being ridiculous.

Perhaps freebie searches on the web lack rigour, but for a serious check by government agencies, at the *very least* a name + DOB match would be required, if not also other supporting data like SSN, address, etc.

Basically, you're applying for a credential, and to do that you hand over a whole bunch of data that identifies you personally, along with proof-of-identity documents that establish that you are - in fact - the person in question, plus legal consent to use that data (in accordance with privacy laws) for the one specific search.

And what generally happens is that *possible* matches are referred to humans to look into further & make a discretionary call as to whether it was in fact you or not.

I can speak with some authority on this, because it's an area that I have had a degree of professional experience with.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:40 PM on July 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


the underlying cost just isn't that much

But the overlying cost is another matter. Every issue of Private Eye features stories of UK government outsourcing rip-offs, all too often related to IT and database projects, and all too often involving the firm they've lovingly dubbed "Crapita".
posted by rory at 11:45 PM on July 15, 2009


> Most or all Australian states have mandatory "working with children" checks (but I think these are aimed at permanent staff, not visitors).

Queensland has the Blue Card system. Invariably when something happens that the system was put into place to prevent, the accused has a Blue Card and had no trouble obtaining one.
posted by markr at 12:10 AM on July 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm a Governor of my children's primary school (in London) and I had to go through a Criminal Records Bureau check. It was a little bit of a nuisance, but not much. I had to fill out a form, and wait a week or so for the all clear. I didn't pay any money (maybe the school did). I see there's a principle at stake, innocent until proven guilty and all that, but it wasn't such a big deal. Better safe than sorry, I would have thought.
posted by Major Tom at 12:23 AM on July 16, 2009


There's a kind of selection bias at work there with the blue card.

If, by definition, you need a blue card to work with children, then it naturally follows that the offences will be committed by people with blue cards.

And (although it's impossible to prove a negative) we simply don't know how many offences have been prevented by making these kinds of credentials mandatory. Crime stats may provide a clue, but without being definitive.

You could think of these as similar to gun licences. Some people with licences will use guns for crime. Some may have criminal histories, but obtained the licences fraudulently. Some might slip through the cracks in other ways. But that doesn't mean that overall the system doesn't improve the general level of protection for the community.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:30 AM on July 16, 2009


There is, of course, one institution remaining in the UK that allows paedophiles unrestricted access to children with absolutely no background checks, training or outside intervention: the family.
posted by stuck on an island at 12:53 AM on July 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


First - does anyone in their right mind not think that publishers do not do background checks on their own authors? That at the very least, publishers and editors, with the hundreds of contact hours that go into taking a book to print, are a better arbiter of which authors might be pedophiles? Does anyone honestly believe that if there was even an inkling that an author was sexually attracted to pre-teens that any publisher would touch them, or their work for children, with a 10-foot pole?

What an absurd rant.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/1999/05/18/children_s_author_found_guilty/
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:53 AM on July 16, 2009


I don't have full details of the VBS system, but aside from the cost to authors it seems to cover the same ground as standard CRBs.

It pisses people off, sows paranoia, and doesn't even accomplish anything useful.

Reread the bit about Soham. I don't know how much play this got in the US media, but in 2002 a school caretaker murdered two ten year old girls. He'd been charged on multiple occassions with rape, underage sex and indecent assault, but the school employed him anyway, because these didn't show up under the previous system of police checks.

The new system of CRB checks was just starting to be rolled out when the media frenzy over the Soham murders reached its peak. Which is why, at the time, it didn't piss people off, it eased paranoia and was generally hailed as accomplishing something very useful.

These systems are a solution to an existing problem. I'd argue that it's not a particularly good solution, but it didn't just come out of nowhere either.


Hmmm... I suppose this will apply to museum guides as well.

Already does. If you work in a museum, leisure centre, theatre, library or whatever, you've probably already been CRB checked and given endless child protection training. I know that I have.

I don't mind us having a checking system. I think we need a system, but I think the current system sucks for three reasons.

1. Massive beauracracy and slow as fucking treacle.
2. Effectively blocks freelancers. (You can't get a CRB check if you work for yourself. You have to be employed by a company who will sponsor your application. The VBS seems to get around this, but by putting the whole cost onto the freelancer, to whom £64 is often substantially more money than it is to Quentin Blake.)
3. If you get an enhanced disclosure, then you don't receive a copy of the report like you do with an enhanced one. This is creepy and means fuck-ups can't be easily corrected.


Occurrences of criminal acts performed by others with similar names, or who use an alias similar to your name

And who share the same birthday, address history and national insurance number? That's how the checks are supposed to work, anyway. I have my doubts though, given that the C-word was invoked upthread.

No, the other C-word, the one Brits do get offended by.
posted by the latin mouse at 1:15 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


TyopgraphicalError:
What cost, really?

A social one. A legal cementing of the notion that adults are dangerous to children, and that children must be protected from adults. I completely object to the idea that men are loaded weapons that need to be licensed, registered and carefully monitored.

Your logical fallacy here, if you don't know what I'm getting at, is your analogy blows.

I only countered yours. That people falling off bikes is even somewhat similar in any way to men raping schoolchildren is absolutely absurd. Going on to say we should prevent them the same way? Blows.
posted by floam at 1:27 AM on July 16, 2009


I used to think this was a ridiculous bureaucratic intrusion. For example, a friend of mine ran a little pre-school nursery, and she had to run a police background check on the old man she employed as a cleaner. How ridiculous. Then in turned out he had just got out of prison for raping children. She wouldn't have known - because he lied on his application form (of course).

And another friend was complaining that the employers who offered work experience to the pupils at her son's school had all had to register for criminal record checks. I can remember the two of us sitting in her kitchen ranting about how it would put employers off. Then in turned out one of them had a record decades long of repeated incidents - and he'd actually been abusing boys in her son's class. That shut us up.

Of course this system does not catch offenders before they are first prosecuted. Of course it does not eliminate the problem of predation. But basic issues like 'two people called John Smith' come up regularly, and have been coped with for many years.

I do a bit of voluntary work with vulnerable people and I had to have a quick check whether I had a criminal record - I don't see the problem.
posted by communicator at 1:36 AM on July 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


University staff who are involved in interviewing have to have CRB checks too. After all, some of the applicants might be 17, and you know what lecherous academics do when they have a 17 year old in their office for 20 minutes.
posted by handee at 1:42 AM on July 16, 2009


I can't recall where I read it, but some survey of British Schoolkids revealed that a significant percentage would let a friend drown/lie injured/etc rather than approach a "stranger" adult for help. So it goes.
posted by A189Nut at 1:55 AM on July 16, 2009


I used to think this was a ridiculous bureaucratic intrusion.

And so it remains, if we are continuing to talk about authors visiting schools as per the links and not shifting to employees. Yes, the employees of a child's school definitely should be checked out and deemed reliable around kids. A visitor to the school, however, should be given respect, should not be forced to submit to investigations, and simply should not be left to wander about unsupervised and bounce the kiddies on his lap and invite some of them out for tea. It doesn't matter if the visitor is a former criminal -- there is no significant risk if school employees are doing their jobs.
posted by pracowity at 2:28 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


A background check is one thing; after all, it can catch people with a bad record before they can do crimes again. However, a license seems not only inefficient, but also like it sends the message that adults are dangerous by default. I understand submitting a background check for buying a gun or getting a job where I will regularly work with children, but a license just implies that I'm dangerous by my mere existence.

I think the schools should instead just make sure to keep a close eye on all guests. Considering most schools I've seen have cameras and police officers, as well as plenty of other adults who would be capable of helping out in an emergency, it seems the license is more a ham-fisted attempt by legislators to bring feel-good security theater to schools.

BTW, my acting troupe is planning on doing our K12 "Feel Good Security Theater" show this fall. Let me know if your district would like our dynamic cast to spread our message of self-esteem and drug-free living. (Is /s necessary?)
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:30 AM on July 16, 2009


At present you have to have a new check every time you apply for a new job. People - I think rightly - complained about this. It was needless duplication. This means you have a one-off check and you are covered for ever. The problem that people might be convicted after they register is dealt with by the fact that your initial registration is saved, and so a later conviction will trigger a warning.

pracowty's suggestion would mean you have a two-tier system, with some people in schools having to be under constant watch. Actually this happens at the moment, with new workers in the couple of weeks before their check has gone through, and it is a massive inconvenience for all. Why not have a quick check that you are not a convicted rapist before going to work with kids? Really - is that such a dreadful imposition?
posted by communicator at 3:06 AM on July 16, 2009


I'm all for it, and I want more. It'd be nice if, when having a business transaction with someone, I could ask him to produce a card that verifies they have a record clear of theft and fraud. When talking to people at parties, why not have them produce cards that certify a history free of assault or rape?

It's really just trying to accomplish the same thing that a tight-knit community would have. Namely, a system of reputation and character. Technology is helping communities regain ground against the modern, open world where people can move about freely and get fresh starts they don't deserve.

I propose a system of badges differentiated by color and shape.
posted by fleacircus at 3:14 AM on July 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


You are able to check company records before you complete a business transaction with someone. The procurement process at my place of work does exactly that, particularly when large multi-million pound contracts are awarded. Or do you think we should stop doing that as well?
posted by communicator at 3:19 AM on July 16, 2009


A while back I was a bit shocked to find out that school photographers have to have background checks now... you know the ones that go in and take photographs of the whole school body or classes at time with lots of people including teachers around at all times. But you can't be too careful. And these poor sods have'nt got mouthy writers to shout up from them.

But as for 'OH NOES!! The UK is big brother will all its cameras and anti-pedo laws!' well from the other side of the pond, the US still doesn't look that attractive.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:28 AM on July 16, 2009


I want everyone to be on lots of lists and be subject to lots of speculation. Are you a rapist or not yet as far as we know but it's hard to tell in part because rape is so underreported? Are you a dangerous driver and therefore a threat to society? Are you gay or are you as yet denying any such thing and perhaps even married to a beard for all we know until you let us examine your bed sheets and underwear and interview your family? Do you go to a place of worship regularly or why the hell not? What were your grades at school and why are you so stupid that you couldn't even get good grades at that crappy school like the other fools in that shitty little place? Is your attendance record bad enough to perhaps indicate potential trouble at work? Did you play well with others and what does it mean if the teacher thought better not to remark on this aspect of your behavior? Do you have heavy credit card debt and so perhaps have impulse control problems and even be more likely to steal or be depressed or feel pressure to moonlight? Are you a tax cheat and does that indicate that you can't be trusted with money unsupervised or that you are a bit unpatriotic and antisocial? Are you impotent and could that be a reflection of your mental or physical health? What do you watch on the television and do we really want to hire someone who watches that crap? Are you a serial monogamist who therefore perhaps has trouble with relationships and commitment and perhaps some things that often don't come out in divorce proceedings? Are you a binge drinker who therefore might have mental and social problems and have higher health risks than average? Have you stopped beating your wife? We must be given full information so we can make informed, intelligent decisions!
posted by pracowity at 3:47 AM on July 16, 2009 [11 favorites]


This is just a work tax—an artificial barrier-of-entry designed to line some people's pockets (not yours). Like making workers buy their own uniforms. Except incredibly more insulting. But communicator is right in that there's nothing new to this. Companies can and do perform criminal background checks before hiring all the time… probably more to indemnify their asses in case you decide to climb a clock tower with a high-powered rifle one day. Asking you to pay for the favor is so… British.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:21 AM on July 16, 2009


The easiest way around the "two people called John Smith" problem is to change your name to "Talulah does the hula from Hawaii Smith".
posted by Major Tom at 4:36 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


British Isles? Paedoph-isles, more like.
posted by fire&wings at 4:45 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why not search homes of people who make under $30K a year randomly to look for drugs and stolen merchandise?

That's pretty much what they're beginning to do here in the Netherlands: Door-to-door searches of poor neighbourhoods, looking for anything amiss. I guess it was only a matter of time after they began blocking off the streets in certain neighbourhoods and frisking everyone they could find on the street.

@five fresh fish: Let me know if you find your country, I'm looking too.
posted by Djinh at 4:52 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is interesting to see this story break in the UK just a few days after one about the shortage of men teaching in primary schools. I am fairly sure that tests such as this help create this type of shortage.
posted by rongorongo at 4:54 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I work in an industry absolutely RIFE with pedophiles, stalkers, and men who use their access to pubescent girls inappropriately. The governing federations are currently codifying burdensome and expensive measures to track these people through things like criminal background checks which completely overlook all the people who have never been caught. So the background checks just serve to "out" the screwed-up-when-I-was-18, while missing completely all the people who just cold get away with it year after year, and whom the industry ALLOWS to get away with it because of these individuals' savvy and/or political power. I have a friend whose life was essentially ruined because he showed a child his prescription pills (not kidding), while the guy that turns him in has been sleeping with all his underage students for years and gets away with it because he also used to sleep with the boss.

It disgusts me and I have now said way too much.
posted by nax at 5:00 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seriously - you think screening teachers for rape convictions stops men working in schools?

Supposing it was made voluntary? Would you want your child to go to a nursery school (for example) where they did not check the caretaker? Or would you go further and say such checks should be made illegal, so as not to put off men from applying?

And other people are saying because people who work in schools will have to disclose prior child abuse convictions, they will never enter the British Isles again? That running a background check, once in your lifetime, for a rape conviction is like making you wear a badge? I've had that check - does that mean I'm in some way harmed? Get a grip.
posted by communicator at 5:02 AM on July 16, 2009


I am fairly sure that tests such as this help create this type of shortage shrinkage.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:03 AM on July 16, 2009


And another friend was complaining that the employers who offered work experience to the pupils at her son's school had all had to register for criminal record checks.

Woah, what the hell? If that had been going on when I was in school I would have never got to do work experience in that grungy little record store, vacuuming the carpets while the Comic-Book-Guy manager played Frank Zappa over the PA. He was a miserly bastard, and criminal checks cost $50.

Can I just say that I'm really, really glad this sort of bureaucratic fear-mongering bullshit didn't go on when I was a kid, thinking back to all the cool people who came to our school to visit us.
posted by Jimbob at 5:23 AM on July 16, 2009


wait, I think I know that guy. was this in Sydney - at The Record Plant?
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:54 AM on July 16, 2009


I have no problems with school employees or anything who will actually be working (potentially alone) with children having to have some kind of background check/license, but someone who is visiting a classroom to give a talk ... in public, with a room full of kids, and a teacher right there? Seems like we should all have to have background checks and licenses then. I don't have kids, don't work with or around kids, and I have at least that much contact with children on a daily basis just going about my day-to-day life at bus stops, stores, waiting rooms and so on. It just seems like overkill.
posted by Orb at 5:58 AM on July 16, 2009


Roy: “Oh right, I see, Peter File”
Moss: “Who’s a paedophile??”
Roy: “No no. His name is Peter File!”
Moss: “His name’s PAEDOPHILE?!”
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:16 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


First - does anyone in their right mind not think that publishers do not do background checks on their own authors? That at the very least, publishers and editors, with the hundreds of contact hours that go into taking a book to print, are a better arbiter of which authors might be pedophiles?

"Dear Mr Carroll,
Although "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" has enjoyed excellent sales, it has recently come to our attention that "Lewis Carroll" is a pseudonym, and furthermore, that..."
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:24 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


wait, I think I know that guy. was this in Sydney - at The Record Plant?

Big Star Records, Adelaide, the Ridgehaven store. No longer around, sadly.
posted by Jimbob at 6:55 AM on July 16, 2009


First - does anyone in their right mind not think that publishers do not do background checks on their own authors? That at the very least, publishers and editors, with the hundreds of contact hours that go into taking a book to print, are a better arbiter of which authors might be pedophiles?

Speaking as a YA writer, the answer to that question is no. No they don't do background checks. Sometimes they don't even know our proper names. Editors have been surprised to discover a particular author's gender or race on meeting said author for the first time. Publishers don't even do background checks on memoirists, whose books are ALL ABOUT the factual representation of themselves. They definitely don't do it for fiction authors.

That said, speaking as a YA author who actually does school visits- I'm never alone with the kids. I'm never even alone with myself. I'm super lucky if I get a bathroom break, and even then, I'm usually accompanied by the teacher because I don't know where the bathrooms are.

When I show up, I have to meet my contact at the office (and usually sign in, and get a big ol' visitor sticker or badge to wear.) My contact escorts me to the classroom. Then I give a presentation- in front of the kids, the teacher, and any other staff who want to stop by. If there's a signing, I sit there with a teacher, behind a table, and sign as the kids move through the line- on the other side of the table. Then I get escorted back to the office, sign all my paperwork, get my check from the office, sign out and leave.

School visits are already extremely regulated; the kids are already protected. And like these authors, I wouldn't do an author visit if I had to- on top of everything- have and pay for a background check. It's just not worth it- it's like saying, "Buy insurance before you visit the Louvre, because we suspect you might draw on the Mona Lisa." I can't even get close enough to the Mona Lisa to draw on it, even if I had the inclination!
posted by headspace at 6:57 AM on July 16, 2009 [7 favorites]


I can't see why people in the UK would oppose government databases....oh wait...on my bus ride downtown there is a giant billboard saying

"YOU ARE IN THE DATABASE. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE OUR NOTICE.

Pay your TV license"
posted by srboisvert at 6:58 AM on July 16, 2009


Why not search homes of people who make under $30K a year randomly to look for drugs and stolen merchandise?
That's pretty much what they're beginning to do here in the Netherlands: Door-to-door searches of poor neighbourhoods, looking for anything amiss.


That is a horrifying, Gestapo-like plan. I can not believe it is happening. Simply astounding.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:10 AM on July 16, 2009


That's pretty much what they're beginning to do here in the Netherlands: Door-to-door searches of poor neighbourhoods, looking for anything amiss.
According to Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop, after the Rodney King riots, the LAPD did random searches of homes in the ghetto and confiscated any new-looking goods the possessor could not produce receipts for, on the grounds that they had probably been looted.
posted by acb at 7:22 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone is against the policy of background checks for school employees, which is why I'm surprised there are so many people here defending the practice. You don't really need to defend this practice. Most jobs even not involving children have background checks. This is not the issue.

The issue is whether an author, artist, or musician- should have to pay over $150 and fill out a lot of forms just for a one hour visit to a classroom in a controlled setting.
posted by eye of newt at 7:45 AM on July 16, 2009


I was teaching in a kindergarten in Japan a few years ago. I was the only non-Japanese the kids had seen in their lives (very rural area by the sea) and it was fun for them to play with a hairy dude with funny-coloured eyes.

One week I had some buddies from the UK visiting me. I asked the principal if she'd like them to come along for a morning to have a play with the kids. She thought it'd be a great idea, so I hopped on my bike, roused the two lasses from their slumbers, and threw them at the children. The children had never seen a blonde girl, or someone with ginger hair, and pretty much exploded with wonder. I have incredibly fond memories of that morning.

Impossible in the UK of course. No time for checks, for screenings, for liability-clauses.

This isn't just a top-down problem, though. When my friends came to see the kids the school took on the risk that they posed (which was obviously close to zero, and didn't even factor into their consideration). Institutes in the UK are increasingly risk-averse, though, and are desperate to have enough things signed to be able to palm off any accidents.

I dislike the symbolic nature of these not-a-paedo records, and the increasing assumption of guilt that exists here in the UK. I also dislike the practical problems, though, where we miss countless little opportunities for little trips and talks and other activities because there are so many barriers that tip ideas over from having a crack at it to not bothering.

There's a worry about social cohesion and people engaging with their communities in the UK; we're still dealing with multiculturalism, assimilation, integration - there are still lots of thoughts about how this stuff is playing out, and no real right answers yet. I think that it's pretty clear that government-accreditation in more-and-more areas is not the right direction of travel.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 7:49 AM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


somehow there seem to be more "look at what's going wrong in the UK now" threads on the blue than "look at what's going wrong in the US now" threads. must be a welcome change for all you long-ridiculed yanks.
posted by krautland at 7:58 AM on July 16, 2009


That's pretty much what they're beginning to do here in the Netherlands: Door-to-door searches of poor neighbourhoods, looking for anything amiss.

I seem to recall this was an idea of Ross Perot's back around 1992. Of course, Ross Perot was completely motherfucking batshit insane.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:03 AM on July 16, 2009


Perhaps freebie searches on the web lack rigour, but for a serious check by government agencies, at the *very least* a name + DOB match would be required, if not also other supporting data like SSN, address, etc.

And yet tales of woe resulting from errors in criminal background search databases are legion in the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:11 AM on July 16, 2009


..including when the data mistakenly match DOB or SSN or address, any of which can be entered incorrectly in the original local database or become erroneous as they pass through a chain of owners and providers.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:17 AM on July 16, 2009


I think the schools should instead just make sure to keep a close eye on all guests.

The schools should be keeping a close eye on all the children. There are a lot of ways that children can get hurt that don't involve other people.
posted by prak at 8:33 AM on July 16, 2009


Kids are in a hell of a lot more danger from other kids than from adults.
posted by Malor at 8:40 AM on July 16, 2009


I don't know about the UK, but the US has problems with the Social Security databases being incorrect. We ran into problems when there was that brilliant scheme to demand all employees be verified to "cut down on illegal immigrants". All that happened is that too many people found that their records were incorrect and they were told they have to go, in person, to their local social security office and get it corrected. Social Security records were never intended to be a national ID, they were created (and the databases were created) to maintain records of a national retirement system.
The US FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is known to be inaccurate, and has been relieved of its legal duty to maintain accuracy.
Many states have within their sexual offenders databases actual rapists mixed in with the 18 year old who had sex with his 16 year old girlfriend.
With this data that is so dirty (inaccurate, out of date), there is no way I can support using them for such serious uses.
If the UK and other countries have similar data issues, then relying on them to vet people for everything is not a good idea. At times, we have to rely on them for situations that are directly impacted (police work, working with secure information, working daily with children). However, I still have mixed feelings since there is often no recourse if you are denied due to inaccurate information. In many cases, I cannot access all the files out there on me. If other countries have found a way for citizens to view and correct such information, then they are doing better than the US.
posted by Librarygeek at 8:48 AM on July 16, 2009


Perhaps freebie searches on the web lack rigour, but for a serious check by government agencies, at the *very least* a name + DOB match would be required, if not also other supporting data like SSN, address, etc.

I read an article a while back about a woman who was ordered by the court to pay child support because her state records were merged with a woman with the same name and date of birth. She even had documentation proving she wasn't pregnant before the child was born, but the judge said it didn't matter because she (the other woman) had exhausted her appeals on the case. Eventually dateline NBC got involved (where I saw it) and found the other woman, who admitted the baby was hers. This was a long time ago (back when I would have watched that show, like back in highschool)

I'm all for it, and I want more. It'd be nice if, when having a business transaction with someone, I could ask him to produce a card that verifies they have a record clear of theft and fraud. When talking to people at parties, why not have them produce cards that certify a history free of assault or rape?

Hey Don't forget dating!

I was teaching in a kindergarten in Japan a few years ago ... One week I had some buddies from the UK visiting me. I asked the principal if she'd like them to come along for a morning to have a play with the kids. She thought it'd be a great idea ... Impossible in the UK of course. No time for checks, for screenings, for liability-clauses.

Yeah in JAPAN. This is a country middleschool students indiscriminately Kancho their foreign English teachers
posted by delmoi at 9:09 AM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


LAPD did random searches of homes in the ghetto and confiscated any new-looking goods the possessor could not produce receipts for, on the grounds that they had probably been looted.

Wow. I can't ever find receipts for things I bought two hours ago.
posted by rokusan at 9:14 AM on July 16, 2009


Cantdosleepy - I dislike the symbolic nature of these not-a-paedo records, and the increasing assumption of guilt that exists here in the UK.

I think that's the heart of the problem. The UK is rapidly sliding into a culture of presumption of guilt. Our society used to be based on the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and that the police/government had no business invading your private life unless they could show that they had a good reason. Increasingly, the reverse is becoming true: by default, the government and police now say "prove to us that you're innocent", and claim the right to keep poking through your private life just on the off-chance that they'll find something incriminating. It's less overt than the Dutch house-to-house searches that Djinh mentioned, but it's more pervasive: keeping records of every website visited and email sent by every British citizen, keeping records of where cars have been travelling via the network of automated number plate recognition cameras, photographing and IDing everyone who turns up to legal peaceful protests, etc.

I'm not saying there's some grand conspiracy run by shadowy figures. There's just the basic assumption in government that we citizens are not capable of managing our own lives, that we have to be controlled to stop us from hurting ourselves.

I agree that teachers and permanent staff at school should be checked for criminal records that that suggest they could endanger children; they're in a position of parentis in loco and have a lot of power over the kids. But extending this demand to people who'd never be left unsupervised with the kids for any appreciable time is completely unreasonable. It's just the state saying, again, "prove to us that you're not guilty."
posted by metaBugs at 9:39 AM on July 16, 2009


UbuRoivas wrote Perhaps freebie searches on the web lack rigour, but for a serious check by government agencies, at the *very least* a name + DOB match would be required, if not also other supporting data like SSN, address, etc.

Wow, it'd sure be nice to think that's true. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the 2000 election debacle, and especially the role played by Florida's purge of its voter lists, the evidence is that what you wrote is manifestly not how the US government (at least) operates.

Recall that the Florida voter purge worked by doing a very broad name match. And I mean *broad*. If Bob Z. Smith was purged, so too was Bob Smith.

So, yeah, I'm not exactly inclined to trust that such checks will be done with any rigor at all. And, worse, the very lack of rigor can be used to justify and expand the program. "Well of course we don't check for DOB or SSN or anything like that, do you really think a pedophile would tell the truth about that? You must be some sort of pedophile yourself to think that way.... The only way to really keep our children safe is to do the loosest match we possibly can, after all better safe than sorry."
posted by sotonohito at 10:10 AM on July 16, 2009


Would you guys like to take a used color-coded terror warning off our hands while you're at it?

It may be available to you free-of-charge.

Colors could disappear from terror alert system.
posted by ericb at 10:14 AM on July 16, 2009


Crap our government has no fewer than 28 databases. Be afraid, be very afraid.
posted by multivalent at 11:49 AM on July 16, 2009


It goes to show, you can't be too careful.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:13 PM on July 16, 2009


And yet tales of woe resulting from errors in criminal background search databases are legion in the US.

Yeah, I'm as amused as anybody else (except the people in question) when I hear about those.

Incidentally, this is a topic that I've followed for years (hell, my first FPP was on the topic), and I've been, at times a member of or otherwise involved in Electronic Frontiers Australia, the Australian Privacy Foundation, the NSW Society for Computers & the Law, and, like I said, my work has involved this exact stuff from time to time.

So, I'm personally somewhat amused that I'm finding myself making arguments on the side of Big Brother. I suppose everybody loves their own baby.

But moving on...

..including when the data mistakenly match DOB or SSN or address, any of which can be entered incorrectly in the original local database or become erroneous as they pass through a chain of owners and providers.

Garbage in, garbage out - unfortunately, an issue common to all automated data processing. Ideally, increased integration & cross-matching should find & throw up these kinds of exceptions for correction. GIGO seems to apply also to aspects of the US SSN database.

Part of the solution is to allow people to review & correct their own information. That's a general principle under Australian Privacy Law, by the way - you have the right to view & challenge any personally identifying information held about you, in most cases. But the better approach is just to include processes asking people to verify their data. Eg - renewing my driver's licence the other day, the counter officer asked "are you still using the PO Box in [suburb] as your mailing address?" - that sort of thing. Build those kinds of checks into the overall business process.

Many states have within their sexual offenders databases actual rapists mixed in with the 18 year old who had sex with his 16 year old girlfriend.

That's a matter of policy, not technology. And it's a fucking stupid policy, if you ask me.

the role played by Florida's purge of its voter lists

Well, what can I say? That was obviously corrupt as all fuck, but that doesn't damn the technology when it's used with bona fides. You don't boycott trains just because Hitler used them to carry people to the concentration camps, do you?

"Well of course we don't check for DOB or SSN or anything like that, do you really think a pedophile would tell the truth about that?"

That's kinda putting the whole process ass-backwards. Again, think of it as applying for a drivers licence. It's up to me, the applicant, to turn up with proof-of-identity to verify who I am. Sure, I could lie about my DOB or other data, but the only result of that (assuming my POI weren't actually checked on the spot, including, perhaps, electronically capturing whatever data might be on a smartchip or mag stripe or even a 2D barcode) will be that the system will run its checks & say "who the fuck is this guy? don't give him the licence; we don't have a clue who he is..." & I don't get my licence. My application might even show up in an exception process for potentially fraudulent applications, depending on the security needs of the process in question.

Crap our government has no fewer than 28 databases. Be afraid, be very afraid.

That's a joke, right?
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:50 PM on July 16, 2009


afterthought: another example of building data verification into your business processes. again, renewing my licence:

"oh, i need to update my address, because i've moved. would you like to see some utility bills addressed to me at my new place?"

"probably not. our system will look up the australia post database. as long as the address on your form matches what they have, you don't need to show the bills."

presumably, if the address didn't match & the Roads & Traffic Authority had to update their version of my address, there would've been a two-way synch between them & Australia Post. not sure about that; only guessing.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:03 PM on July 16, 2009


Paedoplan:

1) Write children's book. Get publishing deal. Keep nose clean.
2) Pass checks. Gain visiting approval. Keep nose clean.
3) Arrange speaking tour. Keep nose clean.
4) Fiddling rampage!

It's a long term plan, I appreciate, but for a professional paedophile, it's the only thing that matters. Keep your eyes on the prize!
posted by davemee at 4:45 PM on July 16, 2009


I was asked to go to local schools and talk about being a scientist. However, to do that, I would have to agree to be fingerprinted. Now, I have a security clearance. I was already fingerprinted. Then my fingerprints got lost, and I had to do it again. Then they got lost lost again, and I had to do it again. I was tired of being fingerprinted, and going to the police station takes a bit of time, so I declined to visit the schools.

Visiting schools should be something any adult is willing to do for the sake of the next generation. It's a shame I didn't. But it's ridiculous to make me get fingerprinted. Yet again.
posted by acrasis at 4:58 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


The fingerprinting issue & the data matching issue are both strong arguments in favour of a kind of national ID card with embedded biometric data, linked to a single unique identifier for the individual - as opposed to the current systems, whereby identity is built up piecemeal from a range of credentials & identifiers that were never intended or fit for that purpose (eg SSNs in America, or Tax File Numbers in Australia*)

I'm not saying that I'm either for or against such a thing, but it's ironic that the exact measures that would solve most of the glitches that people complain about are simultaneously the very same ones that people are most violently opposed to.

* it's a curious tidbit that drivers licences in Australia are not actually proof-of-identity credentials in any strict legal sense...they are only evidence of a right to drive a vehicle. this is in spite of the fact that they are, by far, the most commonly used 'POI' credentials.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:22 PM on July 16, 2009


The fingerprinting issue & the data matching issue are both strong arguments in favour of a kind of national ID card with embedded biometric data, linked to a single unique identifier for the individual

Alternately, we could just not do background checks on everybody for every damn thing, generally treat criminal pasts as fully paid for once the sentence is served and so not other people's business, and save background checks for people who want to work for the FBI, NSA, and similarly actually sensitive positions.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:44 PM on July 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I used to run a Writers in the Schools program (cleverly named WITS). One of the requirements for participation in the program was the school had to agree that the students would be supervised by a teacher at all times - not because we thought any of our writers were pedos, but because they were hired to talk about writing, not be disciplinarians. Are writers visiting schools in the UK expected to take care of the kids while they're there?
posted by joannemerriam at 5:53 PM on July 16, 2009


Speak of the Devil - this just showed up in my inbox: India to issue all 1.2 billion citizens with biometric ID cards.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:00 PM on July 16, 2009


Alternately, we could just not do background checks on everybody for every damn thing, generally treat criminal pasts as fully paid for once the sentence is served and so not other people's business, and save background checks for people who want to work for the FBI, NSA, and similarly actually sensitive positions.

These are not either-or positions. A unique personal identifier could *assist* in screening, but is neutral on the question of whether or not screening is necessary, or even a good idea, for the position in question.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:04 PM on July 16, 2009


LAPD did random searches of homes in the ghetto and confiscated any new-looking goods the possessor could not produce receipts for, on the grounds that they had probably been looted.

Wow. I can't ever find receipts for things I bought two hours ago.


Wow. I'm tempted to say "Looting the looters! Ha!" But then what if you had just saved up a bunch of money to purchase that new furniture set or pitched in for that gift for someone? That just sick then.
posted by Avelwood at 6:23 PM on July 16, 2009


I must admit to having a heightened (but not, I think, completely disproportionate) response to this. I first read of drug tests as a condition for hiring (and remaining employed) back in the 80's during the Reagan administration, and was horrified, vowing, then and there, never to accept a position that would involve such an invasion of privacy as a matter of principle, even though I have never used drugs. (Admittedly, I've never been placed in a position where it has been a factor - one of the advantages of living in relatively liberal cultures). My hiring and firing should be on the basis of my ability, character, and effectiveness, not on the substances I consume, or the crimes I have committed (assuming I have paid the price and served the time).

ROU_Xenophobe and headspace, thank you very much for your contributions and corrections. uncanny hengeman, one exception does not break my argument. However, taking your counter-example to its logical conclusion, one could assume that those in the most scrutinized, trusted and validated positions in society should never be pedophiles, given the rigorous background checks they must undergo. Say, the police. Except they are not.

This whole passive-aggressive, "I'm sure you're not guilty, but just to be on the safe side, prove to me you're innocent" shit has got to go. After a cultural pushback in the 60's and early 70's, it's been creeping back in, and it is terrifying, and completely illogical.

As peacay and others have pointed out, the vast majority of child molestation occurs at home. A child is literally dozens of times more likely to be molested by a family member than by a teacher, a writer, a swimming pool lifeguard, or any stranger. Yet the British population would be up in arms if the government proposed to curb pedophilia by doing background checks and psych evaluations on every couple that wished to conceive (and check on their relations, just in case), even though it would be, by far, the most effective way of stopping child victimization. Why? Because the problem is never us. It's always someone else, some stranger.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 7:27 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Doesn't The Queen work with children? Is she required to do prove she is not a pedophile?
posted by Poagao at 8:43 PM on July 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


This whole passive-aggressive, "I'm sure you're not guilty, but just to be on the safe side, prove to me you're innocent" shit has got to go. After a cultural pushback in the 60's and early 70's, it's been creeping back in, and it is terrifying, and completely illogical.

At it's base, I don't think "guilt" and "innocence" are the drivers behind this - more like liability & indemnity.

If you ran an organisation where there was a not insignificant chance of X happening, and there was a relatively simple means to mitigate against X, and you didn't avail yourself of that process, and X actually occurred, then you could very easily be facing civil liability.

If the X that we're talking about is child abuse, it doesn't take a genius to realise that the liability could be absolutely enormous amounts of money, especially if there were multiple plaintiffs & offenders.

So, I think it's about organisations just covering their arses, by being able to say "well, we did the standard checks, which were best practice at the time, and used by multiple corporations & government departments" - and it's not unlikely that the cost of insurance has something to do with this attitude.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:03 PM on July 16, 2009


Paogao - the Queen is the Law. R v R could only end in a stalemate.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:06 PM on July 16, 2009


uncanny hengeman, one exception does not break my argument.

I'm afraid it does, big fella. You've never studied probability at school, have you?

If you say "all swans are white" [for example - insert ANY statement there] then all I have to do is provide one measly example for your statement to be wrong.

So now that I have proved your statement to be wrong, it's simply a matter of ass covering, like UbiRoivas said. Or, to state it in probability terms:

probability x amount of $$$ it will cost in a law suit = hmmm, should we cover our ass?

To the mefite above who said "visitors" should be exempt and shown respect. In my primary school we had a visitor [maybe 3-4 times per year] who showed us classic movies and gave extremely interesting talks about them. Loved the bloke. Inspirational. I still remember his lessons after all these years

Turns out I was never invited to his "special" before school screenings, if you get my drift.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:08 PM on July 16, 2009


This was a big deal: Children's author jailed for sex attacks

My guess is that this is the incident that is largely at the heart of the new requirement.

Insisting that children's authors are unlikely to be pervy (because their publishing companies can somehow "smoke 'em out," or for any other reason) isn't really a good argument against the database... you can google variations of "children's author arrested/charged" and find enough evidence that this isn't necessarily true at all. The question is, does the register as it applies to visitors invited to speak at schools actually make any sense? Does it help protect children? What are the greater implications? I can't imagine that any of the people who have been found to be offenders would have had any trouble meeting the registration requirements until after they were discovered... at which point, well I don't suppose they would be receiving many invitations to speak at schools or anywhere else, even without the database. If visitors giving presentations/talks at schools are being left alone with children in such circumstances that molestation could even conceivably occur, then it seems like it would make far greater sense to codify and standardize those arrangements rather than create an unwieldy and expensive database of extremely doubtful value. I agree that it's a political and ass-covering measure that is not seriously expected to be of any other benefit.
posted by taz at 1:29 AM on July 17, 2009


Charlie Stross on the problems with trusting databases.
posted by rory at 2:12 AM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm all in favour of this. As long as a few things happen first. In specific, a publically available database of interests and finances for any person holding elected office. Which they need to register for and keep updated. (No, I don't mean the list of Members Expenses; I'm interested in all other income).

And is it time to break out the Brass Eye again?
posted by Francis at 2:58 AM on July 17, 2009


To me the question is whether the *damage* to children is greater if they are in the same room as a person who might possibly be a convicted paedophile, or if they miss out on interesting and informative experiences because of legislation designed to protect them.
As any fule kno the likelihood of actual physical molestation outside of the home and close acquaintances is very small.

It's really just trying to accomplish the same thing that a tight-knit community would have. Namely, a system of reputation and character. Technology is helping communities regain ground against the modern, open world where people can move about freely and get fresh starts they don't deserve.

I propose a system of badges differentiated by color and shape.


I assume this is a joke. However, if not, in my experience smaller communities learn to live with the random humanity that makes them up and are more accepting of peculiar peccadilloes that would result in MASS PANIC if reported in the press in larger communities (unless the report is regarding a person with money).
posted by asok at 3:40 AM on July 17, 2009


"'Reality,' sa molesworth 2, 'is so unspeakably sordid it make me shudder.'
posted by asok at 3:43 AM on July 17, 2009


joannemerriam - Are writers visiting schools in the UK expected to take care of the kids while they're there?
I'm not an author but I've done some voluntary helping out in a smallish primary school. I wasn't supposed to be dealing with kids more than is necessary to walk around the school, I was just fixing computers, cleaning empty classrooms etc. I had to wear a name badge and was told that I wasn't allowed to be alone with children at any time; whenever I was in a room with children there had to be a member of staff there too. It was couched in terms of insurance and discipline, but I assume that security was also a consideration. That seemed pretty reasonable to me: any adult left alone with kids is automatically in a position of power over them. But demanding CRB checks for people who'll never be alone with the kids just seems all kinds of stupid.
posted by metaBugs at 4:35 AM on July 17, 2009


Crap our government has no fewer than 28 databases. Be afraid, be very afraid.

That's a joke, right?


Of course, I think I have more databases.

It's from the second link, it seems as if they've missed a crucial adjective like "national."

Here is the text:

You would have thought that by now New Labour would have got over its love affair with databases. It has created no fewer than 28 of them, according to Damian Green MP – and they have a fine record of mislaying their contents.
posted by multivalent at 4:42 AM on July 17, 2009


Oh speaking of crap government databases. A couple of years ago there was a new law passed that required employers to check the work eligibility of their immigrant employees against this database. The problem was that the database had a 20% error rate. Yes, that's right. 1 out of every 5 people got the wrong result, but employers were going to be required to use it. Apparently there was a lawsuit to try to get out of the requirement, I'm not sure what happened.
posted by delmoi at 11:19 PM on July 17, 2009




I can detect Sir Humphrey Appleby's hand in there, somewhere.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:47 PM on July 20, 2009


« Older "I don't want food from some place else when we've...   |   Eat Canada Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post