Caron, Charlotte and Costigan are all right about the ISA

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I’ve been impressed by the quality of Lib Dem blog posts about the Independent Safeguarding Authority over the past few days. Caron Lindsay, Charlotte Gore and Costigan Quist all make excellent points, albeit from different perspectives. The line in Caron’s post which I thought was most worth highlighting was this one about the Soham case:

The idea is that Ian Huntley, the man responsible for the Soham murders, would have been caught out by this new register because his previous charges or complaints against him would have come to light. But what if he had been identified and removed from the school premises? He’d still have lived somewhere and perhaps on another day a combination of circumstances would have presented him with the opportunity to kill random children he came into contact with.

She’s absolutely correct: displacing the problem is not the same thing as stopping it. Ian Huntley only had to murder or abuse once for it to be too often. Charlotte meanwhile hits the nail on the head here:

Quote, “it is not a punitive sanction. It’s a proactive measure to protect children and vulnerable adults.” Oh, that’s alright then. So say I submit myself to the ISA for vetting and they decide to bar me, and I have to go to all the other parents and admit to them that I’ve been blacklisted so, you know, sorry, I can’t give your kids a lift to footie anymore…. they’ll be sympathetic and understanding to my unlucky run-in with a paranoid, faceless state will they? I doubt it. Rumours will spread that I’m obviously totally dodgy, probably a paedophile, too – I mean, the Safeguarding Authority must have had a good reason to ban me, right? No smoke without fire? Yet smoke is what the ISA are using to come up with their decisions. You see the problem?

One thing I also found interesting about Charlotte’s post is her comfort with the Sex Offenders’ Register. I remember when this was being introduced at the time and the amount of ink (it was ink in those days) used in agonising about it. Back then, one of the big concerns was that an 18 year old who had been caught having a homosexual relationship with a 16 year old would be added to the register (the homosexual age of consent has of course now been lowered of course). Caron gives a similar heterosexual example in her post. It says something about our times when even a notorious libertarian is prepared to concede that such a register is necessary and is an interesting example of authoritarian fatigue (my other favourite being pre-charge detention which has more or less been ceded to the authoritarians in the wider public debate). Finally though, Costigan’s alternative take is also worth remembering:

As the ISA proudly says, this will be the largest system of its kind in the world. Over five years, 11 million of us will be brought onto it. With my permission, an employer or voluntary organisation will be able to check me out online. You just need to do the maths. 11.3 million over five years works out as 9,000 people a day being put onto the system. Nine thousand a day. Approximately one person every three seconds. The idea that experts with gather data effectively and use their judgement to make the right decision on each person is completely laughable. The ISA won’t have enough resources. It will do what always happens in these situations. Corners will be cut, large chunks of data will be imported with little or no checking and decisions based on guesses, rules of thumb and arbitrary thresholds will be the order of the day.

As ever, the threat is not Big Brother but Computer Says No. Our fate is not to be Citizen Smith but Harry Buttle. Within five years, another child will be abducted/abused/murdered by someone in a position of trust and once again the media will be clamouring “why did we let this happen?” Once again, the government solution will be yet another register, yet more checks, yet more expense. And once again people will withdraw just a little bit more into the private sphere, trust their neighours a little less and hope to God that the system will work this time.

3 thoughts on “Caron, Charlotte and Costigan are all right about the ISA

  1. These measures would not have prevented Huntley from meeting his victims. They attended the school where his girlfriend worked, whereas he himself was the caretaker at a different school.

  2. Hmm you know, now that you mention it, what I’m actually comfortable with is people being denied certain jobs because of certain crimes.

    I think saying I support the sex offender’s register is actually a bit of sloppy thinking on my part. Thanks for the reality check.

  3. Charlotte,

    I really wasn’t having a go. I just thought it was an interesting – and familiar – reaction. The problem with this slide away from valuing civil liberties over the past few decades is that it is having a real impact on our imagination space. I find it fascinating looking at newspaper stories from 20 years ago on similar subjects to the topics we are debating now as they make you realise quite how much ground we’ve surrendered. The problem with the fightback is that all too often we end up conceding ground in order to make the case for stopping/scrapping whatever current monstrosity we are fixated on.

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