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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Limited Right to Confidentiality with Research

By Scott Jaschik - Inside Higher Ed
A federal judge on Friday ruled that he would conduct a private review of confidential research interviews by Boston College to determine whether they should be turned over to the British government, as it and the U.S. Justice Department have requested.
The decision by Judge William G. Young said that Boston College and the two governments both have "significant interests" in their positions in the dispute -- with the governments seeking to enforce the law and treaty obligations, and the college seeking to preserve confidentiality promised to research subjects.

In different parts of the decision, Judge Young sided with each party. In support of the government position, he rejected the college's request to quash the subpoenas, and said that the material they were seeking was important and related to legitimate government interests (law enforcement). But he sided with the college (and its scholarly supporters) in saying that academic freedom issues deserve consideration here. In so doing the judge directly rejected government claims in the case. Similarly, the judge discarded the notion that courts should simply grant such subpoenas without a review.
The case is attracting significant interest in Ireland and Britain -- and among historians in the United States who fear the implications the dispute could have for those who conduct oral history interviews. Many such interviews are conducted under pledges of confidentiality for set time periods or (as in the case of the Boston College interviews) until the deaths of the people being interviewed. Researchers say that confidentiality pledges allow scholars to obtain valuable information over the long run -- from people who would be reluctant for legal, political or safety reasons to talk frankly if the interviews were made public in the short term.
The whole story is here.