PARENTS in Scotland are raising concerns about a ‘Health and Wellbeing Census’ currently being conducted in schools. The ‘optional’ survey, designed by the Scottish Government and implemented by local authorities, quizzes children aged 14 and above about their experiences of sex. ‘With how many people have you had sexual intercourse?’ ‘When you had vaginal or anal sex with someone, how often did you or your partner use a condom?’ It goes on.
These questions are completely inappropriate. In what universe is it acceptable for the state to ask 14-year-old kids about a range of sexual activities they should never have been exposed to? The legal age of consent in Scotland is 16 and this is still very young. Teens will be disturbed and confused by what they’re being asked. Quizzing youngsters on these topics may also prompt a sinister suggestion in their minds: ‘Should I be doing these things?’
Of course, there are disturbing instances of underage sex in Scotland. But this does not justify asking every 14-year-old about graphic sex acts. The outcome will be many more children being introduced to harmful concepts they might otherwise have been protected from. With growing concern about these explicit questions among parents, I hope the government will do the right thing and remove them from the census altogether.
There is more to be said about this exercise though. The ‘Health and Wellbeing Census’ represents a mass data grab by the Scottish state. The census covers a wide range of topics and is designed for children in p6 to s6 . For readers outside Scotland, that’s age 10-18. Here is an overview of the kind of data being harvested by the government. It will also be held separately by local authorities.
My first question is this: Why does central government feel that it needs detailed info on everything from a child’s ‘life satisfaction’, to their ‘involvement in decision making’ and ‘relationships with parents’? The government claims it’s to inform research and policy making. Really? Many parents would see it as needless and unwelcome snooping into the minutiae of family life.
The government stresses that parents and children can ‘opt out’ of the survey. That’s good. But how many will truly be informed of its content before being asked if they want to opt out? And how many children and young people will really understand the significance of surrendering personal information to the state? The “Scottish Candidate Number” and “school identifier” provided to government would appear to make answers on a whole range of issues identifiable to individual children.
A privacy declaration on the Scottish Government site provides some information on how data from the census will be handled. According to the document, parents have no right to object to the processing of data about their children, obtain a copy of said data, or have it deleted. Is this legitimate? It would take a data protection expert to determine this.
Data will also be made accessible to a wide range of organisations outside the government, which raises a very serious question: what guarantee can be made against breaches? Through this census, the government – and other stakeholders – will be landed with a huge tranche of sensitive information on a child’s location, their habits, their relationships, their sexual activity and more. The state doesn’t have the best record when it comes to protecting people’s privacy. Do we really trust it with all this?
To be honest, this whole thing makes me uncomfortable. It is just over five years since the Supreme Court struck down the Named Person scheme for encouraging unlawful gathering and sharing of sensitive information on Scottish families. That “big brother” policy was slammed as unjustified state overreach into family life. Now, the same government that created named person is attempting to hoover up all sorts of personal information under the auspices of ‘health and wellbeing’ research.
This may all be lawful, technically. It hasn’t been tested. But I know many citizens in Scotland would rather the state butted out. Why is our government so obsessed with monitoring citizens, right down to the most personal thoughts of children on a range of issues, including their views about mum and dad? To be frank, it’s creepy. To show some respect for families, the Scottish Government would be well-advised to end this unhealthy snooping.