Monday, October 3, 2011

AHA Warns of ANPRM's HIPAA Proposals

Rob Townsend of the American Historical Association warns of the ANPRM's idea of subjecting a broad range of data to protections bassed on the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). If this proposal is implemented carelessly, historians could find themselves barred from some archival research.

"Could History Become an Information Risk'?," AHA Today, 28 September 2011.

If these new restrictions were implemented in a uniform way to encompass all research subject to IRB review, they could extend even to archival research and effectively make those restrictions permanent. For a number of years now, former AHA Council member Linda Shopes has been warning that the rules could lead to regulations on archival research “simply because they deal with the activities of human beings.” The new proposal makes that possibility quite explicit, by encompassing “researchers’ use of pre-existing data (i.e. data that were previously collected for purposes other than the currently proposed research study)” and insists that a researcher acquire “written consent” if he or she “obtains information that identifies the subjects.” The proposal is not clear about whether consent agreements obtained by the original interviewer or host archive would be adequate for subsequent research, but the general tendency in these regulations to seek “one size fits all” solutions makes this deeply worrisome.

The post encourages AHA members to submit comments in response to the ANPRM. "At the very least, the regulations should allow for some sort of sunset provision—similar to those for U.S. census data—to assure that someday historians will be able to make use of the information collected in the present."

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