Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Protecting privacy to protect mental health: the new ethical imperative
  1. Elias Aboujaoude
  1. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elias Aboujaoude, Stanford University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Palo Alto 94304-1290, USA; eaboujaoude{at}


Confidentiality is a central bioethical principle governing the provider–patient relationship. Dating back to Hippocrates, new laws have interpreted it for the age of precision medicine and electronic medical records. This is where the discussion of privacy and technology often ends in the scientific health literature when Internet-related technologies have made privacy a much more complex challenge with broad psychological and clinical implications. Beyond the recognised moral duty to protect patients’ health information, clinicians should now advocate a basic right to privacy as a means to safeguard psychological health. The article reviews empirical research into the functions of privacy, the implications for psychological development and the resigned sentiment taking hold regarding the ability to control personal data. The article concludes with a call for legislative, educational and research steps to readjust the equilibrium between the individual and ‘Big Data’.

  • confidentiality/privacy
  • law
  • ethics
  • social control of science/technology
  • psychology

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Contributors EA is the sole contributor.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Other content recommended for you