The importance of maintaining the confidentiality of private information about individuals obtained in the course of research, teaching, and practice has been long-recognized. Privacy refers to the right of an individual to have control over the extent, timing, and circumstances of revealing personal aspects of one's life to others. Confidentiality generally means that private information about an individual will not be shared without his or her consent. However, there may be situations in which private information about an individual becomes known without consent. For example, an organizational consultant may have access to employee records in order to study salary equity and its influence on company growth.
The maintenance of confidentiality has become increasingly complex with the development of new methods of creating and handling records and electronic technologies for the transfer of information, the trend toward data sharing, and statutory and institutional limitations on confidentiality.
Knowledge of basic institutional, state, and Federal requirements and constraints on confidentiality in research and teaching; thoughtful analysis of how research data may be used in the future; and training research staff and teaching assistants in responsibilities to maintain confidentiality are important.