What is Legal Confidentiality?

G. Wiesen

Legal confidentiality is a legal form of secrecy in regard to information or documents, and is typically associated with business, law, and medicine. This information is usually imparted by one party to another within the context of a relationship of confidence, such as between a doctor and patient or between an employer and employee. Such confidential information is usually indicated to be confidential, though it may be implied through the way in which the information is distributed or handled. Legal confidentiality is often established for trade secrets or important information within a business, and typically pertains to any information exchanged between a doctor and patient or a lawyer and client.

Information shared between a doctor and patient is typically protected by legal confidentiality.
Information shared between a doctor and patient is typically protected by legal confidentiality.

One of the most common types of information considered to be protected by legal confidentiality is any type of secret information vital to the success of a business. This includes trade secrets, such as the recipe of a beverage or the source code for a computer program, as well as public information used in a particular way by the business. Such public information could include customer lists, which consist of otherwise public information, but the information is compiled in a way that is specifically useful to the business and could be exploited by competitors.

Information exchanged and shared between a doctor and a patient is typically protected by legal confidentiality as well. This is intended to prevent private or sensitive personal and medical information from being used in criminal investigations, or to damage the reputation of a person. The protections guaranteed by this type of legal confidentiality may vary between different countries, but in many regions this is a highly prized and protected form of security. This type of confidentiality is often cited as a concern when medical records are kept in computer systems that may be accessible through the Internet.

Another relationship of confidence that is protected by legal confidentiality is that between a lawyer and his or her client. Any information shared by the client in regards to a crime is strictly confidential and cannot be shared without the client’s permission. Under the auspices of this confidentiality, a criminal could reveal specific details about a crime to his or her lawyer, and the lawyer would have a legal responsibility to keep the information secret unless directed to reveal it by the client. Much like the confidentiality between a doctor and patient, this is not merely an ethical issue, and legal confidentiality in these relationships is legally protected; breaking such confidentiality can incur severe legal repercussions.

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