“At the very least, there is negligence on the part of the researchers…”

Those involved in Boston College’s Northern Ireland archive continue to mutter about the motivations behind, and potential damage to future research from, the subpoena for their source material.  But as the Boston Globe report notes

However, Stephen Pope, a theology professor at BC, said the guarantee of confidentiality to interview subjects is at best, naive, and at worst, manipulative, especially when conducting research like the BC project that “has such grave significance for society.’’

“It’s important to get legal advice on what can and can’t be promised in good faith to the interviewees,’’ Pope said. “At the very least, there is negligence on the part of the researchers, from what I can tell.’’

The two researchers who conducted the interviews, who were under Moloney’s supervision, should have known that what their subjects told them could potentially be used in court, Pope said. The law does not recognize the authority of academics and journalists to keep information confidential, he said.

Keeping identities of interviewees closely guarded helped secure confidentiality, he said

John A. Neuenschwander, an emeritus professor of history at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of “A Guide to Oral History and the Law,’’ said institutions and researchers have an obligation to defend confidentiality agreements, but they also should warn subjects that they may not override a subpoena.

“You need to alert people that you seal the interview for, that you may not be able to prevent it from being picked up by a subpoena and going to court,’’ Neuenschwander said.


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