Confidential Information: Legal Definition & Types

Instructor: Jessica Mercado

I completed my BA in Criminal Justice in 2015. Currently working on my MS in Homeland Security Management.

In this lesson, discover the meaning of confidential information. Learn the different types of confidential information and the importance of a confidentiality form. Experience examples of bad confidentiality scenarios, along with examples of the correct way to protect confidential forms.

Introduction

Suppose you are doing a voluntary medical study. You were asked to fill out an information sheet that included; your name, address, phone number, email address, and date of birth. You realize the form also has a confidentiality form that states that all personal information provided for the study would be kept in the possession of the researchers. The information would not be given out to any unauthorized parties such as solicitors. Two weeks after completing the study, you begin receiving; phone calls, emails, and mail, sent to you by solicitors.

Was there a breach of the confidentiality form? Was confidential information shared with outside parties?

Understanding the Meaning of Confidential Information

Confidential informationis information shared with only a few people, for a designated purpose. The person who is receiving the information from you, the receiver, generally cannot take advantage and use your information for their personal gain, such as giving the information out to unauthorized third parties. That is where a confidentiality contract would come in, to prevent misuse of your personal information.

In the medical study you participated in, you shared confidential information, that was only designated to be used by the researchers conducting the study.

What are the Different Types of Confidential Information?

This is a list of some information that is considered confidential:

  • Name, date of birth, age, sex, and address
  • Current contact details of family
  • Bank information
  • Medical history or records
  • Personal care issues
  • Service records and file progress notes
  • Personal goals
  • Assessments or reports
  • Guardianship orders
  • Incoming or outgoing personal correspondence

While this information is considered confidential, and not allowed to be released to anyone outside of the designated party(s), there are times when the confidential information needs to be released:

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Health and safety of a child is at risk
  • If the giver of the information commits a serious crime, such as murder
  • If the giver intends on hurting others
  • If the giver is being subpoenaed
  • When working with others who are caring for the information of the giver

In your case, in the medical study, multiple researchers will have access to your information. In order to conduct their research, they must share your information among themselves. The confidential information you shared in the study was; name, address, date of birth, email address, and number. However, your information was released, but to third parties who were not authorized, even in an emergency.

Why is Confidentiality so Important?

Confidentiality helps to build trust between the giver and receiver of the confidential information. Once trust is built, the giver can feel more comfortable with giving their information more freely, knowing their information is in safe hands. Having the giver complete an informed consent form is an important way to protect the receiver legally, and also protect the release of information of the giver. An informed consent form is a legal document that ensures that the information provided by the giver remains confidential, and is only given to those who have authority.

Did you feel comfortable giving your confidential information away for the medical study? You might have at first, because you filled out a consent form. But that feeling went away once the consent form was violated.

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