Ethics review and freedom of information requests in qualitative research

Research Ethics
Volume 14 Issue 4, October 2018

Original Article: Non-Empirical
Ethics review and freedom of information requests in qualitative research
Kevin Walby, Alex Luscombe
First Published January 1, 2018; pp. 1–15
Freedom of information (FOI) requests are increasingly used in sociology, criminology and other social science disciplines to examine government practices and processes. University ethical review boards (ERBs) in Canada have not typically subjected researchers’ FOI requests to independent review, although this may be changing in the United Kingdom and Australia, reflective of what Haggerty calls ‘ethics creep’. Here we present four arguments for why FOI requests in the social sciences should not be subject to formal ethical review by ERBs. These four arguments are: existing, rigorous bureaucratic vetting; double jeopardy; infringement of citizenship rights; and unsuitable ethics paradigm. In the discussion, we reflect on the implications of our analysis for literature on ethical review and qualitative research, and for literature on FOI and government transparency.