Monday, April 16, 2012

Metadata Ethics Opinions Around the U.S.

I had not considered the ethics of metadata until a student mentioned it in a literature review.  The American Bar Association has a web page on the topic, Metadata Ethics Opinions Around the U.S.  The page states:
While metadata is often harmless, it can potentially include sensitive, confidential, or privileged information. As such, it presents a serious concern for attorneys charged with maintaining confidentiality -- both their own and their clients. Professional responsibility committees at several bar associations around the country have weighed in on attorneys' ethical responsibilities regarding metadata, but there is no clear consensus on the major metadata issues.
The page then contains information for specific jurisdictions on:
  • What is the Sender's Duty When Transmitting Metadata?
  • May the Recipient Review or "Mine" Metadata?
  • Must the Recipient Notify Sender if Metadata is Found?
While this page deals specifically with attorney, I wonder if libraries, museums and archives have found that they need to be careful about the information that they put into metadata fields?  Do you have concerns about privacy or confidentiality when creating metadata?


Unknown said...

I think there are a couple of issues here. First is the difference between active and archival records. When records enter the archives that have sensitive information, the accession should document any restrictions that would apply. Then it would be up to the institution to decide if such an accession would be described.

Secondly I think it depends on the type of records. I usually associate archival metadata with the traditional finding aid or catalog record. In that sense I imagine it would be difficult and impracticle to write enough information in a scope and content paragraph to be considered sensitive. But if we're talking about a database that would be name, age, SSN# searchable, etc., then that metadata would certainly be of concern.

Usually the records that archives make accessible have little to no confidentiality concerns because archivists are supposed to establish that fact before making records available.

Susan D'Entremont said...

I agree with the comment above.

I'm not worried about this because decisions regarding access are made earlier in the process in the institutions I have worked for.

There are lots of privacy and confidentiality concerns that we grapple with, but metadata would not be made public until the determination had been made by the archivists that the material can be opened to the public.