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Council Passes Resolution on Data Access Environment and Technology Section Provides Expertise

On January 27, 2002, the Council of the American Sociological Association unanimously adopted a resolution expressing its grave concerns with the rapidly increasing restriction on access to information previously available to citizens on environmental and health risks in the United States. This resolution expresses the Association’s dismay with the removal of access to public data in what could very well be overreach in the period since the events of September 11th. ASA Council recognized the challenge of determining whether data previously made available might present security issues and called for a judicious approach and expert input in making these determinations. The ASA Council, also by unanimous consent, commended the Council of the Environment and Technology Section for advising the Association about this situation and providing a report and draft guidance. ASA supports access to data consonant with protection of human subjects as a matter of longstanding policy and as set forth in the ASA Code of Ethics. The Association has over the years played an important role in educating and advocating for sound policy regarding data access and sharing. This resolution is balanced in its intent. It emphasizes the fundamental importance of retaining access to data available to researchers and to public decisionmakers and offers a process for reviewing whether circumstances could require limiting open access to certain information.

As Footnotes goes to press, the Executive Office is taking appropriate action to implement the policy guidance of ASA Council. The Association is disseminating the resolution to relevant Federal agencies, Members of Congress, and the public and consulting with other social science societies on optimal next steps. As Executive Officer Felice Levine put it, “ASA has an important role to play in galvanizing attention to this situation in the scientific community and among other relevant publics. We believe the resolution adopted by Council offers a strategy of data access and assessment that can produce a win-win for all concerned. ASA wants to make this happen, and we will be insistent upon doing so.”

Levine has been in consultation with Ed Spar, Executive Director of the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS), and will raise the topic at the February meeting of the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA). “At this point,” Levine said, “we need to work with COPAFS and generate interest with our counterparts in other scientific societies so that we can devise a strategy that can ameliorate this situation and maximally allow access to government information in the short- and long-term.”