Defending Research Confidentiality “To the Extent the Law Allows:” Lessons From the Boston College Subpoenas
Although in the US there have been dozens of subpoenas seeking information gathered by academic researchers under a pledge of confidentiality, few cases have garnered as much attention as the two sets of subpoenas issued to Boston College seeking interviews conducted with IRA operatives who participated in The Belfast Project, an oral history of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. For the researchers and participants, confidentiality was understood to be unlimited, while Boston College has asserted that it pledged confidentiality only “to the extent American law allows.” This a priori limitation to confidentiality is invoked by many researchers and universities in the United States, Canada and Great Britain, but there has been little discussion of what the phrase means and what ethical obligations accompany it. An examination of the researchers’ and Boston College’s behaviour in relation to the subpoenas provides the basis for that discussion. We conclude that Boston College has provided an example that will be cited for years to come of how not to protect research participants to the extent American law allows.
KeywordsResearch confidentiality Boston College Belfast Project Legal cases Limited confidentiality Ethics-first
- Adler, P. A., & Adler, P. (2002). Do university lawyers and the police define research values? In W. C. van den Hoonaard (Ed.), Walking the tightrope: ethical issues for qualitative researchers (pp. 34–42). Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
- Barnes, C. (2010). Arrest Adams now. Sunday Life, February 21, pp. 4–7. Online at http://bostoncollegesubpoena.wordpress.com/supporting-documents/sunday-life/.
- Blomley, N., & S. Davis. (1998). Russel Ogden decision review. Report prepared for the President of Simon Fraser University. Online at http://www.sfu.ca/~palys/ogden.htm.
- Bray, C. (2012a). Reckless negligence: Expanding the case against Boston College. Online at http://chrisbrayblog.blogspot.ca/2012/01/reckless-negligenceexpanding-case.html.
- Bray, C. (2012b). Hot pursuit. Online at http://chrisbrayblog.blogspot.ca/2012/04/hot-pursuit.html.
- Bray, C. (2012c). BC files appellate brief in Belfast Project case. Online at http://chrisbrayblog.blogspot.ca/2012/05/bc-files-appellate-brief-in-belfast.html.
- Brewer, J. D. (2012). Inescapable burden of ‘guilty knowledge.’ Times Higher Education, January 26. Online at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=418834§ioncode=262.
- Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2010) Tri-Council Policy Statement Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans. Online at http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/pdf/eng/tcps2/TCPS_2_FINAL_Web.pdf.
- Cecil, J. S., & Wetherington, G. T. (eds) (1996). Court-ordered disclosure of academic research: A clash of values of science and law. Law & Contemporary Problems (Special issue, Vol.59).Google Scholar
- Clayman, B. (1997). The law of the land. Simon Fraser News, 10(5). Online at http://www.sfu.ca/sfunews/sfnews/1997/Oct30/opinion2.html.
- Comarow, M. (1993). Are sociologists above the law? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 15, A44.Google Scholar
- Cote, D. (2012a). Researchers weigh in on Belfast Project legal drama. The Heights, 15 February. Online at http://www.bcheights.com/news/researchers-weigh-in-on-belfast-project-legal-drama-1.2783367#.T803GEdEOwR.
- Cote, D. (2012b). BCAAUP writes to Leahy, BOT asking for investigation. The Heights, 1 April. Online at http://www.bcheights.com/bcaaup-writes-to-leahy-bot-asking-for-investigation-1.2835347#.T84lbUdEOwT.
- Cote, D. (2012c). Belfast court issues stay on materials. The Heights, 10 September. Online at http://www.bcheights.com/belfast-court-issues-stay-on-materials-1.2895961#.UE9Oo8UXsYs.
- Fanning, J. P. (2007). Policies and best practices for ensuring statistical and research confidentiality. Paper prepared for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under contract under PO HHSP 233200500320A.Google Scholar
- Gopsill, T. (1999). Belfast court win ‘a victory for journalism.’ Online at http://www.londonfreelance.org/molowin.html.
- Hachey, T. E., & O’Neill, R. K. (2010). Preface. In E. Moloney (Ed.), Voices from the grave: two men’s war in Ireland (pp. 1–4). London: Faber and Faber.Google Scholar
- Hachey, T. E., & O’Neill, R. K. (2012). College has fought to deny access to interview materials. The Irish Times, 19 January. Online at http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2012/0119/1224310447302.html.
- Lowman, J., & Palys, T. S. (in submission). The betrayal of research confidentiality in British Criminology and Sociology.Google Scholar
- McCann, E. (2012). Getting Gerry Adams: Norman Baxter’s long crusade. Counterpunch, 13 February. Online at http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/02/13/norman-baxters-long-crusade/.
- Moloney, E. (1999). Briefing note. Online at http://www.londonfreelance.org/molotale.html.
- Moloney, E. (2010). Voices from the grave: two men’s war in Ireland. London: Faber & Faber.Google Scholar
- Moloney, E. (2012a). Problematic stories: Documenting conflict during a peace process. Paper presented at an International Culture Arts Network (ICAN) Symposium: Nine Tenths Under: Performing the Peace, held in Belfast, Ireland, 22–24 March. Online at http://bostoncollegesubpoena.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/ican-problematic-stories-documenting-conflict-during-a-peace-process/.
- Moloney, E. (2012b). Press statement on Boston College judicial review hearing in Belfast. 12 September . Online at http://bostoncollegesubpoena.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/boston-college-subpoenas-caused-by-journalists-lies-and-psni-failings/.
- Moloney, E., & McIntyre, A. (2012). A reply to Niall O’Dowd. Online at http://thebrokenelbow.com/2012/01/14/a-reply-to-niall-odowd/.
- Palys, T. S., & Lowman, J. (2000). Ethical and legal strategies for protecting confidential research information. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 15, 39–80.Google Scholar
- Popkin, S. (2001). Interview with Samuel Popkin. In B. Schultz & R. Schultz (Eds.), The price of dissent: testimonies to political repression in America (pp. 339–347). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Rooney, E. (2011). WGBH-TV Interview with Boston College spokesperson Jack Dunn, Boston College executive director of Irish Programs Professor Thomas Hachey and Boston Globe reporter Kevin Cullen, 25 May. Online at http://bostoncollegesubpoena.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/may-25-2011-boston-colleges-ira-archives-get-subpoenaed/.
- Silverglate, H. A., & Schwartz, D. (2012). Boston College, the Belfast Project and the academy of betrayal: Protection of academic freedom until it becomes inconvenient. 23 March. Online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harvey-a-silverglate/boston-college-belfast-academy-ira_b_1376282.html.
- Social Sciences and Humanities Research Ethics Special Working Committee (2004). Giving voice to the spectrum: Report of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Ethics Special Working Committee. Report prepared for the federal Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics. Online at http://www.sfu.ca/~palys/SSHWC-GivingVoice-2004.pdf.
- Teitelbaum, L. E. (1983). Spurious, tractable and intractable legal problems: a positivist approach to law and social science research. In R. F. Boruch & J. S. Cecil (Eds.), Solutions to ethical and legal problems in social research (pp. 11–48). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
- Wigmore, J. H. (1905). A treatise on the system of evidence in trials at common law, including the statutes and judicial decisions of all jurisdictions of the United States, England, and Canada. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
Legal Cases Cited
- Atlantic Sugar, Ltd., v. U.S., 85 Cust. Ct. 128 (1980).Google Scholar
- Cusumano v. Microsoft Corp., 162 F.3d 708, 716 (1st Cir. 1998).Google Scholar
- Deitchman v. E.R. Squibb & Sons, Inc. 740 F.2d 556 (7th Cir. 1984).Google Scholar
- Dow Chemical Co. v Allen, 672 F.2d 1262, 1274-77 (7th Cir. 1982).Google Scholar
- In re Grand Jury Proceedings. James Richard Scarce, 5 F.3d 397 (9th Cir. 09/17/1993).Google Scholar
- In re Grand Jury Subpoena Dtd. January 4, 750 F.2d 223 (2nd Cir. 12/13/1984).Google Scholar
- In RE: Request from the United Kingdom Pursuant to the Treaty Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Kingdom on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters in the Matter of Dolours Price. M.B.D. No. 11-MC-91078.Google Scholar
- People v. Newman, 32 N.Y.2d 379, 298 N.E.2d 651, 345 N.Y.S.2d 502 (1973), cert. denied, 414 U.S. 1163 (1973)).Google Scholar
- Richards of Rockford Inc. v. Pacific Gas and Electric Co., 71 F.R.D. 388 (N.D. Cal, 1976).Google Scholar
- Snyder v. American Motors Corp.,115 F.R.D. 211 (D. Ariz. 1987).Google Scholar