Ethical considerations and the use of confidential information

Griffith University is required to conduct its research with proper regard to ethical considerations. Students carrying out research involving the use of human or animal subjects must apply for ethical clearance from the relevant Ethics Committee at the earliest possible stage of their candidature. Preparation of the thesis will include confirmation that ethical clearance has been granted and that the research was conducted in accordance with the protocol granted. An application for ethical clearance will typically include provision for the accessing of confidential information, where relevant, and disclose an approach to the use of such information, including privacy guarantees. Such provision will also affect the way in which the thesis will present data obtained in the course of the investigation.

It is recognised that there will be instances when a thesis will contain confidential information that cannot be made freely accessible. Such confidentiality may relate to the substance of the information or the source of the information. In most cases, confidentiality will apply to a part or parts of the thesis only. Wherever possible, confidential information should be used as supplementary material rather than as the principal basis for the thesis. If practicable, confidential material should form a separate confidential appendix. This will permit free access to the thesis proper with appropriate access restriction placed on the appendix only. If the restriction is in source or attribution, the information may be quoted in the thesis and its source indicated in the confidential appendix.

A confidential appendix should contain full documentation of the material referred to by the student in the main body of the thesis. Where the information is based on interviews, identification of the persons interviewed and the date and place of the interview should be provided. A student who intends to use information from interviews must ensure that the person consulted is fully aware of the use to which the information is to be put, and consents to such use. Confidential material acquired informally or accidentally in the course of research or consultation should be used with considerable discretion and only after checking with sources.

In instances where it is appropriate to obtain the consent of an interviewee to use confidential material, it is required that a consent form be used which includes the words:

I have had explained to me the purpose to which the information I have provided will be put, and I consent to its use. I understand that Freedom of Information legislation may result in persons seeking to gain access to part or all of the thesis in which it is included.

As a matter of course, examiners of a thesis are advised that the task of examination must be undertaken on a confidential basis. If necessary, an examiner can be asked to sign a Deed of Confidentiality.