Boston College Offers to Return Controversial Tapes

May 7, 2014

Boston College is offering to return to the interview subjects oral history recordings that were made about "the Troubles," a period of intense protest and violence in Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the 1980s. British authorities (with backing from their U.S. counterparts) fought in U.S. federal court to obtain the recordings for use in possible prosecutions, and in the end obtained some recordings that many believe led to a recent detention for questioning. The use of oral history recordings in this way, in violation of confidentiality requirements made by researchers to the participants, has alarmed many scholars.

While Boston College was under court order to turn over some recordings, it currently is not under any such order. So the college issued this statement: "If Interviewees in the Belfast Project express their desire to have their interviews returned to them, Boston College will accommodate their request upon proper identification. Given that the litigation surrounding the subpoenas has concluded, we believe that it is the appropriate course of action to take at this time."

Chris Bray, a historian who written on the case (and criticized Boston College for not protecting the confidentiality of the recordings), said he believed the college's offer was unrealistic. Some of those recorded would be revealing their identities if they come forward to get the tapes, and the college could then be forced to reveal their identities, he said via email. "Since at least some of the interviews can't be safely returned to unidentified interviewees, and since BC can't guarantee that it will refuse to cooperate with future fishing expeditions in the collection, I think the collection should be immediately and entirely destroyed," he said.


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