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Ethics and Law of Confidentiality in Criminal Justice Research: A Comparison of Canada and the United States

NCJ Number
International Criminal Justice Review Volume: 11 Dated: 2001 Pages: 1-33
John Lowman; Ted Palys
Date Published
33 pages
This article discusses the threat to research confidentiality by the rules of evidence employed in a court of law.
The authors explore the issue of research confidentiality versus the law of evidentiary and testimonial privilege in an effort to undercover strategies that researchers may employ to protect their research from breaches of confidentiality in a court of law. The authors note that a confidentiality agreement between researchers and those they are studying is imperative to conducting accurate research in the realm of criminal justice and criminology. If confidentiality in research were not available, little knowledge would come from those who have been involved in criminal activities, for fear of criminal justice retribution. However, the authors point out that this confidentiality is at risk in a court of law because of potential conflicts between research ethics and the law. They describe four areas of potential conflict. First, when researchers become aware of criminal activities, the law statutorily obliges researchers to report these activities. Second, if researchers become aware of future crimes that are planned, they maybe held liable for harm done to third parties. Third, researchers are vulnerable to subpoena by nongovernmental third parties involved in high-stakes litigation. Fourth, researchers may be subpoenaed by a host of public bodies to testify about crimes in a court of law. The authors show that threats to confidentiality of research abound in the Untied States. However, in Canada the scene is much different. Rarely are researchers in Canada pressured to reveal confidential knowledge received during the course of their research studies. In order to protect the confidentiality of their research subjects in the United States, researchers are urged to use their knowledge of the law to design research projects that will anticipate and mitigate the rules of evidence employed in a court of law. The authors conclude by offering an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of statutory versus common law protections for research confidentiality. References