Skip to main content

Course guide for Anth 201 taught by Charlene Makley.

Legal and Ethical Recording

As you are planning your fieldsite visit, take some time to think through the legal and ethical considerations of recording people in public settings.

Legal Considerations

First, be sure you are informed on the law. The U.S. Code prohibits video voyeurism, which it defines as "the intent to capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent, and knowingly does so under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Each state and city also has laws and rules of conduct to guide meeting processes and procedures. Oregon's Public Meetings Law guarantees the public the right to view public meetings and details how citizens can access public records and how agencies should act to comply with the law. The City of Portland provides Rules of Conduct at City Property. Each committee, board, council, etc. will also have their own meeting rules. It is a good idea to ask for a copy of these rules when you first make contact with the meeting organizer.

Ethical Considerations

When conducting qualitative research, you have to consider ethical issues of "consent, confidentiality and privacy, and relationships between researchers and participants in the design, review and conduct of the research. Some of these may be identified in the design phase. Others will arise during the research itself, which will require the exercise of discretion, sound judgment and flexibility commensurate with the level of risk and potential benefit arising from the research, and considering the welfare of the participants, individually or collectively (Canadian Panel of Research Ethics, 2015)." The sources below will help you think through these issues:

Special Considerations for Recording in Public Spaces

During the recording and reporting phases of your research, you should be careful to represent people and situations accurately while also considering personal privacy and reputation. When editing recordings or selecting text, do not alter the meaning, content, or context of what was spoken.

Obtaining Consent

"Observation in a public place does not require informed consent as long as:

  • Those observed are not children
  • The observations are recorded in a manner such that the subjects cannot be identified
  • The observations could not reasonably place the subject at risk (legal, financial, employment, reputation) if they became known outside the research (University of California Office of Research, 2015)."

If the above points are true for your research, you may not have to gain consent. However, be sure to inform the meeting organizer of your intentions. Also be honest, straightforward, and transparent about your research with anyone who asks what you are doing as you observe.

The discipline of anthropology has explored issues around ethical use of images, video, and audio in depth. These sites and documents provide a window into these discussions:

Rules of Conduct