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Case 38. Data Ownership and Promises of Confidentiality


An academic survey research organization contracts to conduct a survey for a state agency that examines the outcomes from a job training program. The state agency provides the name of the participants and the research organization conducts the survey. As part of the informed consent, confidentiality is promised. After the survey is completed, the state agency asks for the names of the participants to match the survey data with administrative records so they can evaluate the program more fully. Nicholas Burnheart, a sociologist who directs the survey center, gives the names to the state agency because they promise to keep the information confidential.


  1. Did Nicholas violate his promise of confidentiality to the respondents when he gave their names and their responses to the state agency?
  2. Who is ultimately responsible for the confidentiality of the data?
  3. Suppose the researcher responsible for the project at the state agency is a sociologist, JoEllen Restnik. What responsibilities for confidentiality does JoEllen have?
Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.