Four Premises Confidentiality can be Justified

Confidentiality, or not disclosing certain information, is important in a wide range of jobs. Confidentiality matters for legal and reputational reasons, and it also matters because your future employment may depend on it. Some information is protected by law in several countries, including personally identifiable information and also ‘trade secrets’.

Four premises confidentiality can be justified; The first and most fundamental of these four premises relates to the autonomy of the individual over personal information. It maintains that the right of individual to have secrets should be respected. If individuals do not have a measure of control over secrecy and openness about themselves, their thoughts, intentions, and properties, they would not be able to maintain their privacy nor guard against danger. However, this right is not absolute and is to be set aside when it conflicts with the right of others. An example would be when an individual is afflicted with a contagious disease that endangers others in society. In this circumstance, the individual in question cannot claim a right to confidentiality. Also, there are a good number of issues over which an individual cannot claim a right of secrecy over, for instance, a broken arm or a habit of stealing.

Another way Confidentiality may be justified is the second premise, which is derived from the first, maintains that apart from the right to have secrets, there is also the cognate right to share them. It also assumes respect for human relationship and intimacy between humans. On the basis of this, the premise asserts first that it is natural and proper to respect the secrets of those that are intimate and associated with us and second that human relationships could not survive without such respect. This premise is primary in the marital privilege upheld in the American law that a spouse cannot be coerced to give evidence against the partner.

The third premise is that an oath of silence creates an obligation that is supposed to be binding. However, when questions are raised over the legitimacy of an obligation of secrecy that is based on an oath, further questions may be raised about the legitimacy of the oath in the first instance and if the person with whom the oath is made has any right to accept it. In addition, other questions may be raised to determine the circumstances that might justify overriding the oath.

The fourth premise is more specific to the issue of confidentiality in the professional-client relationship. It adds more weight beyond ordinary loyalty to professional confidentiality given its utility to persons and society. It is for the sake of such utility that professionals grant clients secrecy even when ordinarily they have good reasons to speak out. Hence, lawyers for example believe that they are justified in concealing past crimes of clients or priests the sins they hear at confession.The three premises identified above, when combined, offer a  strong prima facie reason to support the idea of confidentiality although it must be recognised that there might be contrary reasons that are strong enough to override these premises. For example, these premises are overridden when secrecy would allow violence to be perpetrated against the innocent or make a person an unwitting accomplice of a crime. In such situations, autonomy and relationship do not provide sufficient ground for secrecy or silence. Indeed, in such situations the oath of silence should never be made, or if made for whatever reason, may be legitimately breached.

Benefit of Confidentiality

A benefit of professional confidentiality for individuals is that it allows them to seek help which they might otherwise fear to ask for. For instance, those that are most vulnerable or at risk of grievous ailments that are considered embarrassing, such as HIV/AIDS, would be very reluctant to go to doctors for help without the assurance that their health status would be kept secret. By this, diseases that could otherwise be better managed could take a greater toll among those ashamed of the nature of their ailments. By extension, society gains in the sense that everyone benefits in society when professionals are able to access secrets that would enhance their capacity for helping clients.

Leave a Reply