Dutch fight crime with 'cradle to grave' database

Starting on 1 January, 2007, all citizens, each with their own electronic file compiling health, education, family and police records, will be tracked from birth until death, the Health Ministry announced this week.

For privacy reasons, no individual or agency will be able to access the contents of any file. But the database will be used by organisations to warn each other of a certain person's dubious record on anything from petty thieving to school truancy.

So-called "red flags" will be raised if an individual is thought to pose a significant risk of criminality, Jan Brouwer, a Health ministry spokesman told the Associated Press. "Child protection services will say: 'Hey, there's a warning flag from the police. There's another one from school. There's another one from the doctor'," Mr Brouwer said. "Something must be going on and it's time to call the parents in for a meeting."

The Dutch hope the initiative will be effective in dealing with potential criminals before they have the chance to do any real harm. Until now, Mr Brouwer explained, there had been no official means of communication between schools and the police, despite the oft-proven link between truancy records and criminality in adults.

Once a child is registered on the database, they will be issued with a Citizens Service Number, making it easier for authorities to keep track of them even if their families move around the country, said Clemence Ross, the Dutch Secretary of Health. "Safety, guidance, education and supervision are incredibly important for the development of children," Ms Ross said.

All Dutch births are currently registered with local authorities.

While the rate of violent crime in the Netherlands remains low, the prison population rate - 10 years ago one of the lowest in Europe - is now one of the highest in Europe.