Guide on using personal, sensitive and health information in archival collections

  • Ethical obligations

    Archivists and researchers have ethical obligations when disclosing or using personal information, sensitive information and health information. Researchers will need to consider how their proposed use of archival material will affect the privacy of individuals and their close family, especially where such information is sensitive or not public knowledge. It may be possible for researchers to overcome privacy issues by de-identifying data they wish to publish, or by seeking written consent from the affected individual or where the individual is deceased any surviving close family. In deciding how to use personal information, the researcher should consider:

    • Does the information belong to a sensitive category of information as defined by the Information Privacy Principles? Or is the information health information? The researcher may need to acquire permission from the person the information is about to publish if s/he doesn’t anonymise.
    • What is the nature and perceived sensitivity of the information?
    • Has the individual/s concerned provided written consent to use/publish the information?
    • Is the individual still alive? Privacy concerns living individuals, but it may in some cases be unreasonable to disclose information relating to the personal affairs of deceased individuals. For example, use or publication without permission of health information about hereditary conditions may ca use damage or distress to the living relative s of a deceased individual.*
    • Is the information current and relevant?
    • Is the information already published/in the public domain?
    • Does the information have a credible source? Extra caution is required in using information that does not appear to come from a credible source especially where a reasonable person would find its use or publication offensive or distressing. For example, an unsubstantiated allegation.
    • Are there any historical or cultural factors that may affect the appropriate use of personal, sensitive or health information?
    • As well as anonymising names, consider the context, which may identify an individual as clearly as giving a name: (eg) Jane Doe, Australian Prime Minister, 2070.
  • Permission to Access

    Some collections are restricted and require permission to be obtained before viewing. Some collections are covered by specific embargo periods.

    Access conditions are listed in the catalogue.

  • Deed of Undertaking

    In some cases UMA will ask researchers to sign a Deed of Undertaking to protect people's privacy.