ASSURING THE CONFIDENTIALITY OF SOCIAL RESEARCH DATA by Robert F. & Joe S. Cecil Boruch

ASSURING THE CONFIDENTIALITY OF SOCIAL RESEARCH DATA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Two principles: that invasions of privacy should be minimized, that constraints on the conduct of research should also be minimized. Are they inimical? Professor Boruch (Psychology, Northwestern), and attorney Cecil say not necessarily, and in this thoughtful, lucid manual they suggest procedures for assuring both privacy and data quality. While the gathering of information will always suffer from some degree of corruption and ""witchcraft,"" from practitioners who on occasion ""exhibit the neural activity of a brick,"" the authors are here trying to avoid unnecessary difficulties while admitting that concern for confidentiality sometimes protects the researcher or bureaucrat more than the subject. Methods suggested range from simple separation of identifier (name, address) from other information, to the use of archives as intermediaries between already-gathered data and researcher, to identifier surrogates (communicating via a lottery ticket instead of a signature). Most methods, however, are more sophisticated: indeed, the discussion of various statistical measures may prove too technical for many readers (although the principles behind them, such as randomization of error, are clearly elucidated). With such a range of legitimate procedures available, Boruch and Cecil inveigh against surreptitious methods of identification, including photographic and electrochemical devices. They also explain current privacy law and suggest further steps to assure legal protection of research records. While the discussion is aimed primarily at social scientists, statisticians, and lawyers, Boruch and Cecil suggest to us all what assurances of confidentiality we have a right to expect from government and other research agencies.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1979
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press