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Healthc Policy. 2007 Feb;2(3):26-38.

Data protection and the promotion of health research.

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  • 1Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa.


This paper challenges the argument that data protection legislation may harm research by unduly restricting the flow of personal health information. I unpack the assumption that privacy is an individual right that must give way to research as a social good, and explore how data protection laws facilitate the flow of information for research purposes. I conclude that researchers should embrace data protection laws because they help construct trust in research practices, mitigate the commercial imperatives that flow from the fact that research is a public-private enterprise and protect the accuracy of data. Good research design should recognize that privacy is a social value and an essential element of psychological health and social relationships. And since research databases do not exist in isolation, researchers must respect the fact that the non-consensual flow of information poses risks of harm, including the secondary use of health research databases for social control, that must be managed.

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