Breaching Confidentiality

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Breaching Confidentiality to Protect Others

Table of Contents



The Challenges of Maintaining Confidentiality in Social Work5

The Question of Minimizing Damage - Disclosure vs. Non-Disclosure6

The Complications in Doctor-Patient Confidentiality7

The Road after Breaching Confidentiality8

Alternatives to Breaching Confidentiality10

The Paradox of Protecting Others12



Breaching Confidentiality to Protect Others


In recent times, the debate over privacy and confidentiality has seen a renewed vigor as individuals and watch-dog groups contest against the degree to which private and confidential information is allowed circulation (Slabic & McGuire, 2007; Ward, 2012). As information and communication technology continues to make it increasingly convenient to share information, the concern over accessibility to the readily available information reaches an all new high (Hermalin & Weisbach, 2012; Simpson, 2010). In order to counter this concern, organizations, governments and regulatory agencies develop and implement rules, regulations and guidelines that are to be followed and adhered to at all times; by any party that is in the practice of collecting information and/or maintaining a database for any reason whatsoever (Bishop, 2009; Keating, 2009). These regulatory guidelines provide an ethical framework to ensure that information collecting bodies do not distribute the collected information to a third party. The combined attempted influence of regulation and legislation to maintain confidentiality and privacy is directed towards the restriction of sharing information without the consent of the party to whom the information belongs (Han, Muralidhar & Sarathy, 2007; Laptosky, 2010).

This may appear to be a simple and straightforward perspective to exercise but the complications arise from the fact that some scenarios call for the violation of confidentiality under the rationale of protecting others (Lezzoni, Rao, DesRoches, Vogeli & Campbell, 2012; Reamer, 2008). The complication is rooted in the debate that asks if it is valid to breach confidentiality (and breach regulation/legislation in doing so) if the objective behind the action is to protect others (Li & Sun, 2012; Slabic & McGuire, 2007). The question of breaching confidentiality to protect others is a tough one because it does not merely ask if confidentiality should be breached or not; instead, it asks if it is fair to divulge confidential if refusing to divulge it may lead to harm (Noble, Nelson & Finlay, 2008; Acquisti, John & Loewenstein, 2012). This discussion will attempt to shed light this subject and make use of examples and references to legal aspects in order to do so adequately. The purpose of this discussion is to engage in research and analysis that can be expected to provide an insight into the issue of breaching confidentiality to protect others. In order to do so adequately, it is imperative to explore a variety of different perspectives pertaining to the subject and to develop an understanding that can assist in the formation and substantiation of recommendations drawn from the extensive understanding of the issue of breaching confidentiality to protect others.


Consider the case of a school counselor. School counselors are frequently confronted with the challenge of balancing the rights of minor clients for confidentiality with the legitimate rights and concerns of others and a counselor's responsibility ...
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