After a copy of the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell survey leaked, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) warned gay and lesbian soldiers against participating, citing privacy concerns. “At this time SLDN cannot recommend that lesbian, gay, or bisexual service members participate in any survey being administered by the Department of Defense, the Pentagon Working Group, or any third-party contractors,” the group said. “While the surveys are apparently designed to protect the individual’s privacy, there is no guarantee of privacy and DOD has not agreed to provide immunity to service members whose privacy may be inadvertently violated or who inadvertently outs himself or herself.” Late last month, privacy concerns were only heightened after AmericaBlog’s John Aravosis was able to access the “DADT Confidential Dialogue,” a portion of the Pentagon’s DADT study that’s part of but separate from the survey.
But now, seeking to reassure and encourage gay and lesbian soldiers to participate in the questionnaire, the Department of Defense is publicizing the fact that Westat — the private company hired to administer the survey — has obtained a Certificate of Confidentiality from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). From the Privacy Statement:
CERTIFICATE OF CONFIDENTIALITY: We will do everything we can to keep others from learning about your participation in this study. To further help us protect your privacy, we have obtained a Certificate of Confidentiality from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). With this certificate, we cannot be forced (for example by court order or subpoena) to disclose information that may identify you in any federal, state, local, civil, criminal, legislative, administrative, or other proceeding.
A Certificate of Confidentiality does not prevent you from voluntarily releasing information about yourself or your involvement in this survey. Westat, however, will not disclose information to anyone that would identify you as a participant in this study unless you provide consent for us to release that information. If you provide consent for someone to receive your research information, Westat may not use the Certificate of Confidentiality to withhold this information. Also, if we were to find out that you are planning to harm yourself or someone else, we would need to report the threat to the authorities.
The certificate, which the Pentagon says it asked for months ago and only now received, would also apply retroactively to to anyone who has already taken the survey. Individuals would be protected permanently from forced disclosure.