Ruling on BC files sets bad precedent

Ruling on BC files sets bad precedent
Sarah Wunsch
Staff attorney, ACLU of Massachusetts
Boston Globe
July 15 2012

IT IS disturbing that the Globe supports a recent federal appeals court panel’s decision ordering Boston College to disclose oral history interviews related to the Troubles in Northern Ireland (“BC decision should lead others to amend oral-history pacts,” Editorial, July 11).

Although the editorial argues that BC failed to warn participants that it could not provide greater confidentiality than the law allows, the case has nothing to do with how BC wrote its research agreements. Nor is the case about whether historians have an absolute right to ignore subpoenas.

The case is in part about whether historians have a right to be heard before a court decides that a foreign government can obtain confidential information about them. The panel ruled those decisions can be made without hearing from the historians, even if their personal safety is at risk.

The decision affects the civil rights of academics, journalists, and any person who faces a subpoena from a foreign power. Further court action may take place; we hope the panel decision and the editorial are not the last word.