A hugely important organisation, Action on Rights for Children (ARCH), that has done tremendous, though often unsung work, in the area of childrens' rights over the past ten years, is in danger of closing. I'm sure Terri Dowty won't mind if I post her appeal for help in full here:"It’s possible that you don’t know much about ARCH. We work on children’s civil rights, in particular the effects of new technologies on their privacy, freedom, consent and data protection rights. Some of it doesn’t attract attention because it’s quite complex, and in any case a lot goes on below the radar. We try to stop things happening, preferably before they even start. If we can’t manage that, we do our best to mitigate the effects. As you read on you’ll recognise some of our issues - though you may not have realised that ARCH was behind them. It is really important work and ARCH is the only organisation doing it, but we need your help to carry on. Otherwise we won’t last beyond this spring.
10 years ago, a rather irritable civil servant at the DfES described ARCH to a Newsnight researcher as ‘a bunch of ranting housewives’. At the time, our new organisation was already starting to annoy the government with awkward questions about their ‘Connexions’ reward card – a system that quietly created consumer profiles of teenagers to sell to companies. ARCH (in reality a network of lawyers, social workers, health professionals, academics and families) certainly outlived the Connexions card, and it has gone on to do a great deal more since.
Last year’s coalition agreement brought serious action on some of our hard-fought campaigns: the end of Contactpoint; the promise that schools will no longer be able to take children’s fingerprints without consent, and that new legislation will ensure that children’s DNA will only be kept on the national database in exceptional circumstances. During the last few years we’ve also brought the whole array of children’s databases and profiling tools to public attention; worked to secure confidentiality for young people using sexual health services; made sure that the new Academies will be bound by the Human Rights, Equalities and Freedom of Information Acts; brought an end to the misuse of children’s data by the Youth Justice Board and the UK Border Agency, and raised questions on everything from truancy sweeps to child-location devices. It’s a track record to be proud of, and we have worked our socks off to achieve it.
It’s pretty ironic, then, that just as the coalition agreement was being published, ARCH was involved in a last-ditch attempt to stave off complete closure. We’ve come near to it before, but this time the shoestring that we run on finally snapped. Fortunately the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust came to our rescue with a bail-out package that will see us through until April this year, but one thing is absolutely clear: if we are to continue fighting for children’s civil rights, we have got to build a sustainable support base for ARCH.
We are just coming up to ARCH’s 10th anniversary and in ten years, ARCH has become an effective organisation with experience and expertise in protecting children’s civil rights. We badly need your help if we are to continue to build on our success.
There is so much more to do. We have got to rein in the use of CCTV in schools, and keep a check on the development of RFID chips and GPS tracking. We need to find out what is happening to data from the Preventing Violent Extremism ‘Channel’ programme, and how children come to be labelled as potential terrorists. We must ensure that young people and their parents caught up in the youth justice system actually understand what’s going on – and have secured partnership with McCormack's Law, a leading criminal law firm, in order to do so. We need to work with the Information Commissioner to stop schools ignoring Freedom of Information requests. We want to investigate how local authorities store and share children’s data, and challenge the unlawful way in which ‘consent’ may be obtained. We need to get some regulation of the storage of babies’ blood samples. And then there are all the other issues that will undoubtedly crop up as we go along.
There are several ways of making donations to ARCH. To make a one-off donation, simply click the Paypal button on the front page. Alternatively, go to our ‘Join Us’ page for our bank details. Better still, come and join us by arranging a monthly subscription via Paypal or online banking, or by completing a Standing Order mandate and sending it to your bank. We ask that you commit to a regular monthly sum of £2, £5 or £10 depending on what you feel able to afford. Alternatively, you can make a single, annual payment of £20.
In return for your subscription, you will receive a regular quarterly update on ARCH’s work and access to the subscribers’ area of the website. We are establishing online discussion forums and will add other features as we develop our new site. You will also have the satisfaction of knowing that you are guaranteeing ARCH’s future.
Some of the most significant damage done during the 13 year Nu Labour obsession with database cures for everything was in the area of childrens' rights and ARCH was one of the few civil society groups actively campaigning against their worst excesses. The UK genuinely cannot afford to lose them at a time when the coalition government have been showing dangerous signs, despite pre-election promises to the contrary, of adopting the previous government's mindset on basic liberties.Terri DowtyDirector