Constructing the Labyrinth: The Impact of Data Protection on the Development of ‘Ethical’ Regulation in Social Science
Information, Communications and Society, Forthcoming
20 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2011 Last revised: 10 Oct 2014
Date Written: June 1, 2011
Through a historical examination of the UK case over the past forty years, this article argues that, although not drafted with such activities specifically in mind, the growth of legal initiatives protecting personal information have exerted a powerful and under-recognized impact on how social science is ‘ethically’ regulated. This impact has been both direct and indirect. At an indirect level, data protection law has encouraged the development of ‘self-regulation’ by learned societies, research institutions and funding bodies including, most importantly, the recent expansion of the remit of research ethics committees (RECs) within UK universities. Additionally, interpretations of the 1984 and, even more so, 1998 Data Protection Acts has resulted in the direct imposition by Universities as data controllers of key limitations on research projects. In sum, data protection has helped fuel a radical shift away from a liberal regime based on a high valuation of individual academic autonomy to a much more constrained one where academics are both placed in a formally subordinated position vis-à-vis their institutions and subject to a labyrinth of restrictions and controls.
Keywords: Institutional Review, Privacy, Data Protection, Ethics, Regulation, Legalisation, Methodology, Social Science
JEL Classification: K2, K29
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation