A key requirement for research in forensic linguistics is access to authentic data.
These are often highly sensitive, such as threatening communications, police
interviews, or discussions in dark web fora. Without authentic data, we cannot do the
type of research required to provide a sound evidence base for expert opinion and analysis for the courts; nor can we train the next generation of forensic linguists. Researchers in FL are increasingly successful at gaining access to such data, particularly through building long-term relationships with practitioners such as the police. Those who undertake casework are also granted unique insider access to highly sensitive data, analysis of which not only forms an essential part of the expert’s task, but may sometimes also be drawn upon subsequently to produce academic outputs (e.g. Grant 2013, Kredens and Coulthard 2012). However, with such access comes great responsibility. There are serious and complex questions around data ownership, data protection and confidentiality, which need to be balanced against issues of research integrity and authenticity. Focusing in particular on academic practices regarding data anonymisation (revisiting some of the issues highlighted by Rock 2001), and drawing on our collective experiences of maintaining working relationships with external partners in legal and medical contexts, this paper aims to bring these issues out into the open, spark debate, and trigger a long-overdue critique of our professional practice in data ethics.

Grant, T., 2013. ‘TXT 4N6: method, consistency, and distinctiveness in the analysis of sms text messages’. Journal of Law and Policy 21(2): 467-494.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jul 2022
EventFourth European Conference of the International Association of Forensic and Legal Linguistics - Porto, Portugal
Duration: 18 Jul 202221 Jul 2022


ConferenceFourth European Conference of the International Association of Forensic and Legal Linguistics


  • forensic linguistics
  • data ethics


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