Privacy and Its Niceties in Oral History

Hamid Qazvini
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Privacy in the process of recording and publishing memories is an issue that has attracted attention of activists in this field and those interested in legal issues in recent years with the expansion of activities of memoirist individuals and groups.

Oral history interviews include close and personal relationships between interviewers, narrators and their organizational sponsors. This relationship is important for all groups. Interviewers feel an obligation to the people who have allowed them to document and report on their attitudes and feelings. Common and continuous interests between interviewers, narrators and sponsoring organizations certainly influence applying and using oral history interviews. (Handbook of Oral History, NLAI, p. 275)

Among memories of people of all social classes and orientations, there are materials that are related to the most private parts of their lives; this feature raises the question of how much the oral history researcher has the right to search and explore, and in case of receiving information, how should they keep or publish them?

Of course, protecting privacy, which includes personal information of people, is a natural and human right that cannot be violated under any excuse; it allows everyone to define boundaries to protect their privacy from others; because everyone has information that is important to him/her and unauthorized access to them may cause mental or physical harm to him or her, and violating their dignity or damage materially.

Basically, respecting and preserving privacy is a necessity of individual and social life, and makes citizens feel safe and calm. Privacy does not have a specific scope and is defined based on the situation of individuals and their surrounding culture.

According to cultural, moral, and legal features of any society, oral history activists should follow the accepted and common practices in that society, taking into account the cultural, social, and legal contexts of the society in which they live, and take responsibility for their work. (Ibid. 174)

Obviously, in such a situation, ethical and legal considerations will be the best solution. Disobeying legal considerations can cause serious consequences for researchers and their supporting organizations, and deviating from ethical considerations not only harms the narrators and imposes a heavy responsibility on the researcher, but can also discredit work of others. (ibid., 174)

Meanwhile, the main issue is respecting the person whose story we are trying to record. This respect can be shown in various ways. This should be done based on informed consent of the narrator, in which the interviewer tells the narrator what is necessary, based on which the narrator decides to participate in the interview and continue this cooperation. Narrators should be aware of the purpose, perspective and value of the interview, how it will advance, and what the interviewer expects of them. It is necessary for the interviewees to know who will read their interview in the future, and to give them the opportunity to read and revise their interview after the interview. (ibid. 176)

Considering what was explained, perhaps the best method in any oral history project is to prepare ethical and legal guidelines, and carefully monitor their implementation.

If the oral history researcher knows the ethical requirements of this profession before conducting the interview and during training and learning this profession, and commits to complying with the instructions prepared by the organization sponsoring the project, many problems will be resolved.

Preparing and implementing legal regulations, also, it is possible to regulate relations of the parties from the beginning of the work in a legal framework in issues such as interview and publication contracts, unpublishable items, publication methods, etc. In addition, on the audio and video file or its text, notices about privacy and sensitive points should be included, or special encryptions should be done to use sensitive files.

On the other hand, the interviewees should be informed that they can refuse to answer any of the questions and stop the interview whenever necessary without causing any problems. (Ibid. 177)

The important point in this field is the intelligent, precise, transparent, and frank treatment of the parties with the issue of privacy from the beginning of the work, which will prevent future problems to a large extent. Undoubtedly, informed consent prevents desecration and violation of people's rights.

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