UW Research

August 5, 2019

For the Record – August 5, 2019

In this issue:

Reminder: No More Confidentiality Agreements

After July 28, 2019

Due to a change in Washington State law, Confidentiality Agreements are no longer required for use of UW records. All other requirements for accessing identifiable records remain (for example, IRB approval).

  • No new Confidentiality Agreements are being accepted.
  • No revisions to existing Confidentiality Agreements are being accepted.

Audio and Video Recording

When it is, and isn’t allowed

Longstanding Washington State law RCW 9.73.030 prohibits audio or video recording of any private conversation without the consent of the individuals being recorded.

“Consent” means that one party has announced to all other parties in the conversation, in any reasonably effective manner, that the conversation is about to be recorded AND that the announcement has been recorded or documented in some way. This is not the same as the consent requirement of the human subjects regulations – most importantly, the law does not allow for a waiver of the recording consent. A posted sign may or may not be sufficient notification, depending on the circumstances.

A question about this has been added to the Procedures section of IRB Protocol application form. The new question advises researchers to contact HSD at hsdinfo@uw.edu if they want to do recordings without consent, so that HSD can help identify ways or obtain legal consultation about whether/how the recording can be conducted under the constraints of this state law.

“Cold Contact” Recruiting Methods

Effective immediately

Researchers often obtain the names and contact information of possible research participants (say, from medical records) and then send them a “cold contact” letter to ask if they are interested in a study.

Effective immediately, the UW IRB will no longer approve cold recruiting methods that include sensitive information about the individual in the communication – for example, a health condition, medical test results, or academic performance. The reasons are:

  • HSD receives many complaints about cold contact letters, especially when they contain sensitive information;
  • Confidentiality breaches involving these letters have increased. Example: A letter addressed to one individual is put into the envelope addressed to another individual.

A one-sentence guidance statement has been added to the Recruiting section of the IRB Protocol form.

Situations that do not involve a cold contact will continue to be reviewed as usual by the IRB. For example, individuals may receive recruiting letters because they had previously consented to become part of a registry. HSD and the UW IRB would not consider those letters to be cold contact letters.

Undocumented Individuals as Study Subjects


HSD has received a question about the UW IRB’s review of research focused on undocumented individuals.

Federal regulations and University policy require IRB review of research on all people, whether or not the participants have documentation that allows them to be in this country.

Two of the federal regulatory criteria for IRB approval are especially relevant for these participants:

  1. IRB review must pay special attention to the risks for individuals who are vulnerable to coercion or undue influence. This specifically includes economically or educationally disadvantaged persons as well as children, prisoners, individuals with impaired decision-making capacity, and any other group that the IRB considers to be vulnerable. The UW IRB considers undocumented individuals to be vulnerable.
  2. The privacy and confidentiality risks for undocumented individuals may be higher than for other individuals, and must be appropriately managed in order to obtain IRB approval. This may include, for example, obtaining a Certificate of Confidentiality which allows the researcher and the University to resist subpoenas requesting participant information.

Contact HSD at hsdinfo@uw.edu if you have questions about working with this vulnerable population.

Searching the HSD Website

A temporary issue

For the next few weeks, when you use the Google search function embedded in the Office of Research websites, you may find that the result you are looking for is not at the top of the search results list. Instead, it may be farther down on the page.

The Google search engine on all Office of Research websites broke for a few hours last month. Unfortunately, that caused all of the web-crawling history associated with the sites to be re-set to zero. The re-installed Google search engine is still re-learning search preferences. It will find what you are looking for, but the link may be listed farther down on the page of search results.

Please let HSD know about any continuing difficulties with searching the website, by emailing hsdinfo@uw.edu.