The Linguist

The Linguist 55,3

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Page 12 of 35 JUNE/JULY 2016 The Linguist 13 FEATURES Interpreters – particularly public service interpreters (PSI) – are aware that a client's confidentiality can be breached where disclosure is required by law, for example, if there is potential or actual abuse of children and/or the elderly, or generally when clients threaten to injure or kill themselves or another person. Perhaps less clear situations are job assignments not involving physical harm but where the interpreter or translator becomes aware that another type of offence may be occurring or about to occur – for example money laundering, falsification of identity documents and so on. Should the interpreter breach the client's confidentiality by informing the police and risk possible legal repercussions for doing so? What if the interpreter has got it wrong or can't actually prove anything? Grey area scenarios such as these highlight the need for interpreters and translators to take out professional indemnity insurance (as recommended by CIOL); and also for our professional organisations to operate (confidential!) legal helplines, something CIOL is introducing as a benefit for Members and Fellows next year. What is clear is that few clear guidelines exist for interpreters and translators who unwittingly find themselves caught up in potential legal minefields and who may be unsure of where their duty of confidentiality starts and ends. Particularly difficult situations often arise for PSIs because we regularly hear tales of torture and abuse. Police officers and other professionals working in the public services have automatic access to in-house confidential counselling services. Officially, we have nowhere and no one to turn to. CIOL code clause 8.3 states that members should not "carry out work that they are aware might expose them to criminal prosecution or civil liability or in relation to which they have a duty of disclosure to an official agency". I can recall pointing out to a solicitor client that the date of birth on a certificate that he wanted me to translate was later than the date of issue of that certificate, and him telling me not to worry as he doubted that this particular judge would notice! Destroying information Instructions by clients to destroy confidential information once the job has been completed can be another legal minefield. If we sign an NDA to this effect, what do we do if there is a complaint months later and we cannot defend ourselves as we no longer have any evidence? Also how can clients police us? Surely they can't – they just have to trust that we will abide by a 'destroy' clause in their NDA. In any event, forensic IT experts tell us that simple deletion of contents from our computers is not enough – we would need to take a hammer to the hardware to ensure total destruction of all the data contained therein. We probably need to explain some of these issues to clients and also to advise them about the existence of our footprints on the terminology sites and e-networking groups where we have sought specific subject and/or terminology advice. What about other information that we may have put into the cloud and into file-sharing generally? How many more times will this information be shared on? The truth is that we simply don't know. Another minefield is how long confidential information has to be kept confidential. Clients' information (or at least some of it), such as trade secrets, financial details and politically sensitive information, may have to be kept confidential for varying amounts of time: months or even years – possibly forever if we sign the Official Secrets Act. However, restrictive clauses in NDAs have to satisfy 'reasonableness' criteria, so each situation has to be carefully considered on an individual basis. Finally, confidential information relating to colleagues and clients which is known to us also has to be treated with caution. Seemingly innocuous gossip, whether shared online during e-networking or face-to-face, may be enough to harm a colleague or client's professional reputation permanently and to land those involved in deep professional misconduct waters. This article is based on Sue Leschen's forthcoming Critical Link 8 conference workshop on 'Confidentiality Issues and Problems for Interpreters and Translators' at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh on 28 June. For details, email THE RIGHT THING It may be a given that interpreters should not gossip about their work (above left), but how and when to dispose of clients' confidential information may be less clear (above right) IMAGES: © SHUTTERSTOCK

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