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Case 34. Confidentiality of Information Obtained during the Course of a Sociologist's Work


Dr. Sophie Lieber is overseeing a large survey-based study. Subjects are accessed via random- digit dialing and then interviewed by one of several interviewers supervised by Lieber. Informants are assured that the interviews are anonymous and confidential. One afternoon Lieber receives a call from an interviewer who is distraught. The interviewer explains that while he was interviewing a male "head-of-household," the informant asked him to hold because he had "to deal with his kid."  The interviewer then heard what seemed to be screaming, and slapping and crashing sounds in the background. The noise was followed by silence which was only interrupted when the informant returned to the phone and said: "That should keep him quiet for a while; what else do you want to know?"


  1. What obligation does Professor Lieber have to take action having heard what the interviewer has to say?
  2. What are the possible actions that Professor Lieber might consider?
  3. What implications, if any, do her actions have for the profession?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the Discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.