Social workers keep records to demonstrate accountability to their agencies, clients, communities, and profession. They also record to enhance practice and support a variety of administrative functions. This entry describes the history of recordkeeping in social work, and identifies important contributions to its development. The author discusses current issues related to computerization, wide access to sensitive personal information in records, and privacy legislation. The entry also outlines the characteristics of good records, those that meet the complex demands of contemporary practice.
Jill Doner Kagle
Priscilla M. Regan
Despite cultural differences, privacy tends to be rather universally viewed as important in protecting some realms of life that are seen as off limits to society more generally. Yet privacy has also been the cause of significant global issues over the years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, government agencies and private sector organizations increasingly adopted computers to maintain records, precipitating a concern with the rights of the individuals who were subjects of that data and with the responsibilities of the organizations processing the information. During the 1980s, international and regional bodies recognized that domestic laws could affect the flow of personal information into and out of a country, bringing scholarly and policy attention to the issue of transborder data flows. Somewhat paralleling the principally business dominated debate and analyses over transborder data flows was a broader discussion about privacy issues resulting from global communication and information systems, particularly the internet, during the 1990s. The focus in policy and scholarship was less on variations in national laws and more on two features of networked communication systems: first, the technical infrastructure supporting the flow of information; and second, the globalization of communication systems and information flows. Later on, the privacy landscape and discourse changed dramatically throughout the world after the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001. Concerns about privacy and civil liberties were trumped by concerns about security and identifying possible terrorists.