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2.3A: Confidentiality

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    7923
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    Sociologists should take all necessary steps to protect the privacy and confidentiality of their subjects.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Give examples of how the anonymity of a research subject can be protected

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • When a survey is used, the data should be coded to protect the anonymity of subject.
    • For field research, anonymity can be maintained by using aliases (fake names) on the observation reports.
    • The types of information that should be kept confidential can range from a person’s name or income, to more significant details (depending on the participant’s social and political contexts), such as religious or political affiliation.
    • The kinds of information that should be kept confidential can range from relatively innocuous facts, such as a person’s name, to more sensitive information, such as a person’s religious affiliation.
    • Steps to ensure that the confidentiality of research participants is never breached include using pseudonyms for research subjects and keeping all notes in a secure location.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • confidentiality: Confidentiality is an ethical principle of discretion associated with the professions, such as medicine, law, and psychotherapy.
    • research: Diligent inquiry or examination to seek or revise facts, principles, theories, and applications.
    • pseudonym: A fictitious name, often used by writers and movie stars.

    In any sociological research conducted on human subjects, the sociologists should take all the steps necessary to protect the privacy and confidentiality of their subjects. For example, when a survey is used, the data should be coded to protect the anonymity of the subjects.

    In addition, there should be no way for any answers to be connected with the respondent who gave them. These rules apply to field research as well. For field research, anonymity can be maintained by using aliases (fake names) on the observation reports.

    image

    Cuyahoga County U.S. Census Form from 1920: Following ethical guidelines, researchers keep individual details confidential for decades. This form, from 1920, has been released because the information contained is too old to have any likely consequences for people who are still alive.

    The types of information that should be kept confidential can range from something as relatively mundane and innocuous as a person’s name (pseudonyms are often employed in both interview transcripts and published research) or income, to more significant details (depending on the participant’s social and political contexts), such as religious or political affiliation.

    Even seemingly trivial information should be kept safe, because it is impossible to predict what the repercussions would be in the event that this information becomes public. Unless subjects specifically and explicitly give their consent to be associated with the published information, no real names or identifying information of any kind should be used. Any research notes that might identify subjects should be stored securely. It is the obligation of the researcher to protect the private information of the research subjects, particularly when studying sensitive and controversial topics like deviance, the results of which may harm the participants if they were to be personally identified. By ensuring the safety of sensitive information, researchers ensure the safety of their subjects.