American Sociological Association

Case 42. Email

Situation

Two sociologists, Tim Murphy and Kershawn Williams, are jointly conducting a telephone survey in their respective organizations to save time and money. Tim finds that his organization is not going to be able to meet its deadline, so he asks Kershawn to help. Kershawn agrees and asks Tim to email the names and telephone numbers of the respondents Tim will not be able to contact. Tim sends them via email.

Questions

  1. Should Tim send the names and telephone numbers via email since he knows that email is not secure?
  2. Are the names and telephone numbers of potential survey participants private information that must be protected?

Discussion

It is generally recognized that email is not a secure and safe method of data transmission. Errors could be made in addressing. It might be possible to intercept the message. The message might be stored on backup tapes on multiple computers that are not secure. It is not necessarily a problem if there are no data attached to the names and addresses unless the information was supposed to remain private.

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