Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Confidentiality and Administrative Data

06/01/2002

Administrative data are often collected with either no notification or some blanket notification about the uses to which the information will be put. As a result, legislatures and administrative agencies are left with the problem of determining the circumstances under which program participation records, drivers' license data, or school performance data should be considered private information and treated confidentially. One solution is to release only anonymous versions of these data through aggregation of the data or removal of identifying information. Anonymity, however, is not always feasible, especially when researchers want to link individual-level data across programs. In this case, should the collecting agency regulate the use of the information to ensure confidentiality when the individual has not been notified or has not provided informed consent? Can the government or some other regulatory body regulate the use of information and substitute for informed consent? What constitutes notification or informed consent? In the next section, we provide a quick overview of how the federal government has dealt with some of these issues.

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