Sensitive Materials

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The collections we process may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that have not been identified by donors as needing a restriction. If we discover these items in the course of processing a collection, we may determine that there is a compelling reason to impose a restriction on them. "Compelling" is the keyword here. We use our knowledge of the context surrounding a particular collection and our professional judgment to assess how compelling the potentially sensitive or confidential information is. We impose these restrictions only in circumstances in which we have determined that a serious risk to privacy exists. If we are in doubt that a restriction is needed, we err on the side of access and do not restrict.

We can identify categories of sensitive and confidential information, but we cannot craft strict guidelines for applying restrictions to these materials because what rises to the level of "compelling" will differ from one collection to the next. This approach means that we will always pause to evaluate materials that fall into these categories when we find them in the course of processing, but we will not apply restrictions based on any hard and fast rules. Further, we assume no responsibility for identifying and restricting all of the sensitive or confidential materials in every collection. When we do not restrict sensitive or confidential information, we rely on our researchers' understanding of the limits on what private or confidential information discovered in our collections they can legally disclose. We inform researchers of their legal responsibilities with a privacy statement that appears in all of our finding aids, in the research agreement that they sign in order to use our collections, and in response to their requests for permission to publish materials from our collections

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