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Preventing Breaches of Confidentiality

Posted - June 16, 2015

Investigators must always be vigilant on the issue of confidentiality. It is often necessary to share information that some might suggest is confidential, but to complete an interview or gather relevant documentation investigators may need to share some information. Providing inappropriate information about the subject of an investigation with other witnesses is a breach of confidentiality and the question for the investigator is: What is inappropriate? An investigator should share as little as possible with interviewees, ensuring that what they share is for the purpose of putting the interviewee in a position to properly answer questions about the case.

Proper handling of evidence and other information gathered by the investigator is paramount in maintaining confidentiality as well as maintaining the integrity of the evidence in the case. Investigators breach confidentiality when they share documents inappropriately or lose documents by failing to secure them properly.

Allowing others to overhear confidential information is another type of confidentiality breach. This may sound simple, but sometimes witnesses insist on meeting in public places, which requires investigators to be resourceful in maintaining confidentiality.

One investigator had a case in which a female witness would only meet me in a coffee shop because she did not want to leave her neighbourhood. To maintain confidentiality and avoid allegations of impropriety, the investigator told her that he would bring another investigator, that the three of them would would sit in the car outside the coffee shop, and that the investigator would conduct the interview with the windows up and the air conditioning on.

Investigators should be wary of e-mail communication and explain to clients and witnesses that e-mail is not secure and shouldn’t be used for confidential information. Even password protection of documents are not %100 secure given the multitude of free password-breaking software applications available to the general public. If face-to-face communication is not an option, the investigator must find another way to secure way to communicate -perhaps using technology such as Skype for interviewing may be an option. Documents may better be transferred through fax or secured courier services rather than e-mail. Whatever approach is used, investigators should keep in context the seriousness of the matter under the investigation and make appropriate decisions on all of these issues. Investigators have a responsibility placed on them to be the gatekeeper of information and ensure it is protected.

Investigators may also breach confidentiality by obtaining information not relevant to the a case. To avoid allegations of breaching confidentiality, investigators must understand the various privacy laws. Also, they need to understand how their regulatory body interprets these laws and how that affects their powers of investigation. Some regulators are concerned about how their actions might be interpreted and the potential political ramifications of using more invasive techniques such as a search warrant to obtain information. As a result, there is a variation among regulatory bodies regarding the use of certain powers of investigation. While some are comfortable with using more invasive powers as indicated, others would prefer to avoid the use of invasive actions as much as possible.

Investigating the Investigator

Though the information the investigators elicit is confidential, the words they use to elicit are not. Thus, when conducting a case, investigators should assume they are being recording, especially when talking on the phone. Hidden recording devices of all kinds are now widely available to the general public, so investigators need to speak at all times as if their words will be scrutinized by others. Doing so can save them time and embarrassment of having to explain themselves later.

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