(Section by Dr. Carlene Turner)
The encryption lesson being taught in this module can be paired with the concept of anonymization of data in sociological methodology. While it is believed that with quantitative data it is easier than qualitative data “to collect and record data in ways that make subject identification more difficult” (Babbie, 2011, pg. 496), care still must be taken to protect sensitive personal information. It is during the transmission of data between users that the information can be fall into unintended hands.
Encryption can be used to conceal a dataset from parties who should not have access to it. There may be some resistance, in using encryption protocols outside of non-computer science and related disciplines. One of the aims of this module is to demonstrate data such as income tax information; medical data; juvenile delinquency records, and others that are utilized by social scientists usually needs an extra layer of protection during transmission. Encryption is an effective mean to privatize social science data.
While social science researchers have a responsibility to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of their data, there are instances when the law allow researchers to subpoena information about their respondents. For example, law enforcement may require information about vulnerable populations, such as child abuse victims. Researchers’ can find protection by obtaining from the National Institute of Health (NIH) a Certificate of Confidentiality, so they cannot be legally required to share their confidential data (Schutt, 2014). Additionally, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) offers a layer of protection to practitioners and researchers that collect medical/health data. HIPPA rules states that researchers need to have valid authorization before they can share health information (Schutt, 2011).