Values in Design: Defining a Privacy-Aware Model for Web Access to Archives

I’m spending the next few days at the 72nd Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists in San Francisco, and I’m looking forward to learning more about many of the ethical and policy issues confronted by archivists in an age of growing digitization and Web-based archival services.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of presenting on a panel titled “Values in Design: Defining a Privacy-Aware Model for Web Access to Archives,” organized by Nancy McCall, Archivist at Johns Hopkins University Medical Archives, and her colleague Phoebe Evans Letocha. Our panel was chaired by Paul H Theerman,
the Head of Images & Archives, at the National Library of Medicine. Here is the panel description:

Philosopher Helen Nissenbaum‘s construct of contextual integrity addresses challenges for protecting privacy in the age of information technologies. It is especially relevant to issues that archivists face in managing holdings in a digital environment. Focusing on ways the construct may apply to archival theory and practice, the speakers demonstrate how contextual integrity may be applied to archival models on the Web and to current processing standards, as well as best practices that may be applied to minimally processed collections.

I opened with a broad discussion of contextual integrity (my slides in PDF form), followed by more detailed presentations by Nancy and Phoebe related to their attempts to use CI as a framework for creating access models for medical archives.

What I found most striking about our discussion was the while much of my own use of contextual integrity has been as a tool to expose hidden or overlooked privacy concerns, the archivists at Johns Hopkins are using CI as a framework to help create more contextually-aware schemes to enable access to the archives for research purposes, access which is often constrained by HIPAA. Contextual integrity has afforded them greater flexibility in making access decisions to the archives. Very cool.

UPDATE: I’ve also uploaded my slides to the panel’s wiki page, and will try to get Nancy and Phoebe’s up there as well.


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