Reported in the Daily Mail this weekend (yes, it had to be the bloody Mail, didn't it?) …
Government inspectors are to pry into the intimate details of more than 500,000 people a year, asking a series of probing questions about their sex lives and earnings.
Snooping officials will want to know about previous sexual partners, contraception, and how long couples lived together before marriage.
The 2,000-question survey from the Office for National Statistics will raise major concerns about privacy - especially as the data will be logged with the respondents' names and addresses.
Some of the questions seem remarkably insensitive. One asks: "Have you ever had a baby - even one who only lived for a short time?"
Interviewers are told starkly: "Exclude: Any stillborn; Include: Any who only lived for a short time."
Civil servants claim the sensitive personal information will be made anonymous once it is processed at the department's headquarters in Newport, South Wales - but that is not enough to satisfy privacy campaigners.
Doubts have also been raised about how useful the information will be, as people have a proven tendency to lie when quizzed about their sex lives.
Investigators conducting the new Integrated Household Survey - at a cost of more than £3.5million a year - will visit 200,000 homes at random each year and question each occupant - about 500,000 individuals altogether.
They have 35 questions on contraception alone, such as whether men have had vasectomies, the brands of pill women take, and whether they have ever used a "morning after" pill.
Other intimate questions include the exact dates when previous relationships ended, the precise amount of take-home pay, and whether people earn extra money from second jobs or from bonuses.
Investigators will find out about the health of children, as well as asking probing questions about respondants' drinking and smoking habits, such as: "How soon after waking do you usually smoke your first cigarette of the day?" and whether they drink beer in pints, halves, cans or bottles.
Some of the questions verge on the ridiculous, such as: "How many hearing aids do you have that you don't wear?"
Documents seen by The Mail on Sunday also suggest that even though the survey is voluntary, inspectors will press people into revealing personal details, with follow-up questions designed to draw out more information.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) claims it needs the comprehensive annual poll to keep up with social trends that will help Whitehall mandarins formulate policy.
But some experts have cast doubt on how useful the survey would be.
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, said: "When researchers ask about sexual habits there is a very strong tendency for people to clam up, or to say what they think they want to hear.
"This is not a particularly useful exercise. If you want to find out about intimate details they should do it in a much more sensitive way.
"I would resent being asked these questions and I don't think the Government should be doing it."
The ONS denies it will follow other Government agencies, such as the DVLA, in selling the information to private companies - but the sensitivity of the data has prompted fears about privacy.
The Government has previously been rocked by scandals such as the loss of 25million child benefit records, and the fact the new survey will collect the names and addresses of respondents has alarmed protesters.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: "If this survey is purely to inform public policy, why is the data not anonymised at the point of collection?
"The ONS will need to work incredibly hard to make sure this doesn't go horribly wrong. The last thing anyone wants is another crisis over data security."
Shadow Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "Day by day, the liberty and privacy of the British public is being undermined by Labour's surveillance state.
"People will be shocked that taxpayers' money is being spent on intrusive surveys. Now state spies want to log and record who sleeps with whom and how often. Not even the Stasi went this far."
Last night, an ONS spokesman said the new survey was a "high quality, adaptable and efficient" way of "meeting the Government's future information needs", adding: "Names and addresses are stripped off the files as soon as they arrive in our office, and the data is then held on a secure server.
"We have never sold information to the private sector and that will continue."
Astonishing, isn't it? Do these people not know just how much offence this will cause? Don't they read the newspapers, or watch the telly, or surf the net (all right, they probably don't read the Daily Mail, but presumably the story's been covered in one or other of the newspapers published for people with an IQ in double figures?).
Don't they realise that there's already a deep groundswell of resentment against the official snooping, surveillance and control we already have to bear, and that one more tiny bit might be the straw that broke the camel's back? Not that this is a tiny bit - it sounds like a bloody great big bit to us!
Don't they understand that British people will, eventually and if provoked enough, start fighting back? Have they forgotten the poll tax?
I'd love to see the job advert for a post at the Office of National Statistics. It probably includes the words "The ONS is an equal opportunities employer. We welcome applications from members of all minority groups, all ethnic backgrounds, all religions, all sexual orientations, and particularly seek applications from those who have alternative intellectual qualifications or are clinically brain-dead".
The GOS says: I asked myself an interesting question a few paragraphs ago. Has this story been reported in any of the quality newspapers? Or is it only the Daily Mail?
A quick search on the internet for "Integrated Household Survey" reveals no mention of it in any other newspaper sites, except for a copy of the Mail article on This Is London. Funny thing, that.
However, one can find some interesting stuff at the Economic and Social Data Service website, including the original ONS proposal, and the actual questions for the Household Questionnaire and for the Individual Questionnaire.
Mind you, neither of them seem to contain any questions about sexual orientation or dead babies. Nor can I find the question about "How soon after waking do you usually smoke your first cigarette of the day?" although it did appear in public health surveys carried out in 1994, 1998 and 2000. I suppose the Daily Mail couldn't be exaggerating at all?
Do let me know if you find anything I've missed …
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
Copyright © 2008 The GOS
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