Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.9, No.2, 1993. pp. 275312

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Privacy and Advances in Social and Policy Sciences: Balancing Present Costs and Future Gains

Individuals have a right to an efficient, effective, and just society. Social science and policy research has provided considerable information about and understanding of some of the most critical issues in modern societies. This has often required extensive, sensitive data on individuals and organizations. As research progresses, continued scientific progress will require more complete and diverse data to further advance understanding of critical societal issues: health, crime, education, economic growth, etc. Increasing concerns regarding individual privacy and organizational confidentiality may lead to restrictions on access to sensitive, critical information on individuals and organizations as well as the capacity to assemble information from diverse public data sets. These dilemmas will be a continuing issue: only temporary compromises can be expected. It is proposed that the optimal strategy for the social science community is multi-faceted: clearly demonstrate respect for individuals and organizations through appropriate handling of private and sensitive information while simultaneously making clear the societal benefits of an enhanced understanding of basic phenomena.

Ethics; confidentiality.

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