Sunday, January 18, 2015

Library Administrator Mistakes FOIA Request for Human Subjects Research

Sometime human-subjects alarmist Michael Zimmer sent requests for public documents to 30 public libraries. Though most librarians welcome requests for information, in the age of the Common Rule, you can't take anything for granted.

[Zimmer, Michael. “New Project on Privacy and Cloud Computing in Public Libraries (and Some Aftermath).”, January 9, 2015. h/t Rebecca Tushnet]

Zimmer reports:

One library administrator seemed to take some umbrage with my project and approach. That director emailed a larger list of library directors asking if anyone else had received my records request, noting that “There is no promise of anonymizing the data or offer to opt out of the study, which is a typically included in studies these days” and expressing surprise that my IRB would approve such a methodology. (I learned of this concern due to that director’s email being forwarded to a privacy list hosted by the ALA that I’m a subscriber to.) I’ve since replied that this methodology doesn’t involve human subjects, and follows common approaches to obtaining government information (such as the Fordham Center for Law and Information Policy’s excellent research on privacy and cloud computing in public schools). I’ll reach out to this director personally, and hopefully the concerns will be put to rest.

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