CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics for Survey Research (Undated)


Council of American Survey Research Organizations


CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics for Survey and Research

Date Approved: 


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CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics for Survey Research


This Code of Standards and Ethics for Survey Research sets forth the agreed upon rules of ethical conduct for Survey Research Organizations. Acceptance of this Code is mandatory for all CASRO Members.

The Code has been organized into sections describing the responsibilities of a Survey Research Organization to Respondents, Clients and Outside Contractors and in reporting study results.

This Code is not intended to be, nor should it be, an immutable document. Circumstances may arise that are not covered by this Code or that may call for modification of some aspect of this Code. The Standards Committee and the Board of Directors of CASRO will evaluate these circumstances as they arise and, if appropriate, revise the Code. The Code, therefore, is a living document that seeks to be responsive to the changing world of Survey Research. To continue to be contemporary, CASRO advocates ongoing, two-way communication with Members, Respondents, Clients, Outside Contractors, Consultants and Interviewers.

(Please also refer to other CASRO Publications which may provide detail relevant to many sections of the Code of Standards and Ethics)

Responsibilities to Respondents


Researchers have professional and legal responsibilities to their respondents that are embodied in the procedures of a research study. Underlying these specific responsibilities are four fundamental ethical principles:

Respondents should be:

a. willing participants in survey research;
b. appropriately informed about the survey's intentions and how their personal information and survey responses will be used and protected;
c. sufficiently satisfied with their survey experience;
d. willing to participate again in survey research.

A. Confidentiality

1. Since individuals who are interviewed are the lifeblood of the Survey Research Industry, it is essential that Survey Research Organizations be responsible for protecting from disclosure to third parties--including Clients and members of the Public--the identity of individual Respondents as well as Respondent-identifiable information, unless the Respondent expressly requests or permits such disclosure.

2. This principle of confidentiality is qualified by the following exceptions:

a. A minimal amount of Respondent-identifiable information will be disclosed to the Client to permit the Client: (1) to validate interviews and/or (2) to determine an additional fact of analytical importance to the study (including the practice of appending Client-owned database information to the Survey Research Organization's data file as an analytic aid). Where additional inquiry is indicated, Respondents must be given a sound reason for the re-inquiry; a refusal by Respondent to continue must be respected.

Before disclosing Respondent-identifiable information to a Client for purposes of interview validation or re-inquiry, the Survey Research Organization must take whatever steps are needed to ensure that the Client will conduct the validation or recontact in a fully professional manner. This includes the avoidance of multiple validation contacts or other conduct that would harass or could embarrass Respondents. It also includes avoidance of any use of the information (e.g., lead generation) for other than legitimate and ethical Survey Research purposes or to respond to Customer/Respondent complaints. Assurance that the Client will respect such limitations and maintain Respondent confidentiality should be confirmed in writing before any confidential information is disclosed.

Where Respondent-identifiable data is disclosed to clients so that the Survey Research Organization may analyze survey data in combination with other respondent-level data such as internal customer data, respondent-level data from another survey, etc., it is understood that the information will be used for model building, internal (Survey Research Organization) analysis, or the like and not for individual marketing efforts and that no action can be taken toward an individual respondent simply because of his or her participation in the survey. To assure Client compliance, the Survey Research Organization must obtain written confirmation from the Client before releasing any data. (A suggested CASRO Client agreement clause is available.)

Further, with respect to such research uses as Database Segmentation and/or Modeling (see preceding paragraph), specific action(s) may not be taken toward an individual Respondent as a result of his/her survey information and participation beyond those actions taken toward the entire database population group the Respondent by chance has been selected to represent. In order for such specific action, the following two elements must be met:

The Respondent has first given his/her permission to do so, having been told the general purpose and limitations of such use; and

The research firm has obtained a written agreement from the Client assuring that no other use will be made of Respondent-identifiable information.

Predictive equations which integrate a segmentation scheme into a Client database may be applied so long as no action is taken toward an individual Respondent simply because of his or her participation in the survey. Respondents must be treated like all other individuals in the database according to the segment(s) to which they belong or have been assigned.

b. The identity of individual Respondents and Respondent-identifiable information may be disclosed to other Survey Research Organizations whenever such organizations are conducting different phases of a multi-stage study (e.g., a trend study). The initial Research Company should confirm in writing that Respondent confidentiality will be maintained in accordance with the Code.

c. In the case of research in which representatives of the Client or others are present, such Client representatives and others should be asked not to disclose to anyone not present the identity of individual Participants or other Participant-identifying information except as needed to respond, with the Participant's prior specific approval, to any complaint by one or more of the Participants concerning a product or service supplied by the Client.

3. The principle of Respondent confidentiality includes the following specific applications or safeguards:

a. Survey Research Organizations' staff or personnel should not use or discuss Respondent-identifiable data or information for other than legitimate internal research purposes.

b. The Survey Research Organization has the responsibility for insuring that Subcontractors (Interviewers, Interviewing Services and Validation, Coding, and Tabulation Organizations) and Consultants are aware of and agree to maintain and respect Respondent confidentiality whenever the identity of Respondents or Respondent-identifiable information is disclosed to such entities.

c. Before permitting Clients or others to have access to completed questionnaires in circumstances other than those described above, Respondent names and other Respondent-identifying information (e.g., telephone numbers) should be deleted.

d. Invisible identifiers on mail questionnaires that connect Respondent answers to particular Respondents should not be used. Visible identification numbers may be used but should be accompanied by an explanation that such identifiers are for control purposes only and that Respondent confidentiality will not be compromised.

e. Any Survey Research Organization that receives from a Client or other entity information that it knows or reasonably believes to be confidential, respondent identifiable information should only use such information in accordance with the principles and procedures described in this Code.

f. The use of survey results in a legal proceeding does not relieve the Survey Research Organization of its ethical obligation to maintain in confidence all Respondent-identifiable information or lessen the importance of Respondent anonymity. Consequently, Survey Research firms confronted with a subpoena or other legal process requesting the disclosure of Respondent-identifiable information should take all reasonable steps to oppose such requests, including informing the court or other decision-maker involved of the factors justifying confidentiality and Respondent anonymity and interposing all appropriate defenses to the request for disclosure.

B. Privacy and the Avoidance of Harassment

1. Survey Research Organizations have a responsibility to strike a proper balance between the needs for research in contemporary American life and the privacy of individuals who become the Respondents in the research. To achieve this balance:

a. Respondents will be protected from unnecessary and unwanted intrusions and/or any form of personal harassment.

b. The voluntary character of the Interviewer-Respondent contact should be stated explicitly where the Respondent might have reason to believe that cooperation is not voluntary.

2. This principle of privacy includes the following specific applications:

a. The Research Organization, Subcontractors and Interviewers shall make every reasonable effort to ensure that the Respondent understands the purpose of the Interviewer/Respondent contact.

(1) The Interviewer/Research Company representative must provide prompt and honest identification of his/her research firm affiliation.

(2) Respondent questions should be answered in a forthright and non-deceptive manner.

b. Deceptive practices and misrepresentation, such as using research as a guise for sales or solicitation purposes, are expressly prohibited.

c. Survey Research Organizations must respect the right of individuals to refuse to be interviewed or to terminate an interview in progress. Techniques that infringe on these rights should not be employed, but Survey Research Organizations may make reasonable efforts to obtain an interview including: (1) explaining the purpose of the research project; (2) providing a gift or monetary incentive adequate to elicit cooperation; and (3) re-contacting an individual at a different time if the individual is unwilling or unable to participate during the initial contact.

d. Research Organizations are responsible for arranging interviewing times that are convenient for respondents.

e. Lengthy interviews can be a burden. Research Organizations are responsible for weighing the research need against the length of the interview and Respondents must not be enticed into an interview by a misrepresentation of the length of the interview.

f. Research Organizations are responsible for developing techniques to minimize the discomfort or apprehension of Respondents and Interviewers when dealing with sensitive subject matter.

g. Electronic equipment (taping, recording, photographing) and one-way viewing rooms may be used only with the

full knowledge of Respondents.

3. Internet Research

a. The unique characteristics of internet research require specific notice that the principle of respondent privacy applies to this new technology and data collection methodology. The general principle of this section of the Code is that survey research organizations will not use unsolicited emails to recruit respondents for surveys.

(1) Research organizations are required to verify that individuals contacted for research by email have a reasonable expectation that they will receive email contact for research. Such agreement can be assumed when ALL of the following conditions exist.

a. A substantive pre-existing relationship exists between the individuals contacted and the research organization, the client or the list owners contracting the research (the latter being so identified);

b. Individuals have a reasonable expectation, based on the pre-existing relationship, that they may be contacted for research;

c. Individuals are offered the choice to be removed from future email contact in each invitation; and,

d. The invitation list excludes all individuals who have previously taken the appropriate and timely steps to request the list owner to remove them.

(2) Research organizations are prohibited from using any subterfuge in obtaining email addresses of potential respondents, such as collecting email addresses from public domains, using technologies or techniques to collect email addresses without individuals' awareness, and collecting email addresses under the guise of some other activity.

(3) Research organizations are prohibited from using false or misleading return email addresses when recruiting respondents over the Internet.

(4) When receiving email lists from clients or list owners, research organizations are required to have the client or list provider verify that individuals listed have a reasonable expectation that they will receive email contact, as defined, in (1) above.

4. Privacy Laws and Regulations

a. Research Organizations must comply with existing state, federal and international statutes and regulations governing privacy, data security, and the disclosure, receipt and use of personally-identifiable information (collectively “Privacy Laws”). Some of the Privacy Laws affecting Survey Research are limited to specific industries (e.g., financial and health care industries), respondent source (e.g., children), and/or international venues.

b. In instances in which privacy laws apply to Survey Research operations for specific industries or respondent source,

Research Organizations will:

(1) Always enter into a confidentiality or “chain of trust” agreement when receiving and using legally-protected, personally-identifiable information from a source other than the data subject, insuring that the Research Organization will protect the information and only use it for the purposes specified in the agreement;

(2) Always require subcontractors and other third parties to whom they disclose personally-identifiable information to enter into confidentiality or “chain of trust” agreements that require such party(ies) to provide the same level of security and limitations of use and disclosure as the Research Organization;

(3) Always store or maintain personally-identifiable information in a verifiably secure location;

(4) Always control and limit accessibility to personally-identifiable information;

(5) Always use reasonable efforts to destroy personally-identifiable information once the survey is complete and validation has been conducted, unless the personally-identifiable information relates to Respondents in panels, to ongoing studies, or for some other critical research reason, or the research Client is legally or contractually obligated to require its service providers to maintain such information for a certain period of time and contractually imposes this requirement on the Research Organization;

(6) Never knowingly receive, use or disclose personally-identifiable information in a way that will cause the Research Organization or another party to violate any Privacy Law or agreement.

c. In order to conduct international research that requires either transmitting or receiving personally-identifiable information of Respondents, Research Organizations must comply in all material respects with international privacy laws and regulations, by, in the case of data transfers with a person or entity in the European Union, either (i) certifying their compliance with the privacy provisions described in the United States Safe Harbor Principles of the European Union Directive on Data Protection or (ii) satisfying an alternative method of complying in all material respects with the Directive. The EU Safe Harbor privacy principles are contained in the CASRO Model Privacy Policy and are as follows:

(1) Notice: A description of what information is collected, how it is collected, its purpose, and its disclosure to third parties.

(2) Choice: A statement of and procedures for allowing individuals to choose not to participate in the research and/or to have their personal information used or disclosed to a third party.

(3) Onward Transfer: A statement that personal information will be transferred only to third parties who are also in compliance with the Safe Harbor Principles.

(4) Access: Procedures to provide individuals with access to their personal information in order to correct, amend, or delete that information where it is inaccurate.

(5) Security: A description of the reasonable precautions taken to protect personal information from loss, misuse and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration, and destruction.

(6) Data Integrity: A statement that information will be used consistent with the purpose for which it was collected.

(7) Enforcement: A description of internal and external mechanisms for assuring compliance, and addressing and resolving disputes and complaints.

d. Research Organizations will, to the extent required by law or as necessary to fully and completely comply with the principles set forth in the section of this Code entitled Responsibilities to Respondents, adopt effective and comprehensive legal and operational policies, such as those set forth in CASRO's Privacy Protection Program, which will be updated as necessary to conform with additions to and changes in Privacy Laws.

Responsibilities to Clients

A. Relationships between a Survey Research Organization and Clients for whom the surveys are conducted should be of such a nature that they foster confidence and mutual respect. They must be characterized by honesty and confidentiality.

B. The following specific approaches describe in more detail the responsibilities of Research Organizations in this relationship:

1. A Survey Research Organization must assist its Clients in the design of effective and efficient studies that are to be carried out by the Research Company. If the Survey Research Organization questions whether a study design will provide the information necessary to serve the Client's purposes, it must make its reservations known.

2. A Research Organization must conduct the study in the manner agreed upon. However, if it becomes apparent in the course of the study that changes in the plans should be made, the Research Organization must make its views known to the Client promptly.

3. A Research Organization has an obligation to allow its Clients to verify that work performed meets all contracted specifications and to examine all operations of the Research Organization that are relevant to the proper execution of the project in the manner set forth. While Clients are encouraged to examine questionnaires or other records to maintain open access to the research process, the Survey Research Organization must continue to protect the confidentiality and privacy of survey Respondents.

4. When more than one Client contributes to the cost of a project specially commissioned with the Research Organization, each Client concerned shall be informed that there are other Participants (but not necessarily their identity).

5. Research Organizations will hold confidential all information that they obtain about a Client's general business operations, and about matters connected with research projects that they conduct for a Client.

6. For research findings obtained by the agency that are the property of the Client, the Research Organization may make no public release or revelation of findings without expressed, prior approval from the Client.

C. Bribery in any form and in any amount is unacceptable and is a violation of a Research Organization's fundamental, ethical obligations. A Research Organization and/or its principals, officers and employees should never give gifts to Clients in the form of cash. To the extent permitted by applicable laws and regulations, a Research Organization may provide nominal gifts to Clients and may entertain Clients, as long as the cost of such entertainment is modest in amount and incidental in nature.

Responsibilities in Reporting to Clients and the Public

A. When reports are being prepared for Client confidential or public release purposes, it is the obligation of the Research Organization to insure that the findings they release are an accurate portrayal of the survey data, and careful checks on the accuracy of all figures are mandatory.

B. A Research Organization's report to a Client or the Public should contain, or the Research Organization should be ready to supply to a Client or the Public on short notice, the following information about the survey:

1. The name of the organization for which the study was conducted and the name of the organization conducting it.

2. The purpose of the study, including the specific objectives.

3. The dates on or between which the data collection was done.

4. A definition of the universe that the survey is intended to represent and a description of the population frame(s) that was actually sampled.

5. A description of the sample design, including the method of selecting sample elements, method of interview, cluster size, number of callbacks, Respondent eligibility or screening criteria, and other pertinent information.

6. A description of results of sample implementation including (a) a total number of sample elements contacted, (b) the number not reached, (c) the number of refusals, (d) the number of terminations, (e) the number of non-eligibles, (f) the number of completed interviews.

7. The basis for any specific "completion rate" percentages should be fully documented and described.

8. The questionnaire or exact wording of the questions used, including Interviewer directions and visual exhibits.

9. A description of any weighting or estimating procedures used.

10. A description of any special scoring, data adjustment or indexing procedures used. (Where the Research Organization uses proprietary techniques, these should be described in general and the Research Organization should be prepared to provide technical information on demand from qualified and technically competent persons who have agreed to honor the confidentiality of such information.)

11. Estimates of the sampling error and of data should be shown when appropriate, but when shown they should include reference to other possible sources of error so that a misleading impression of accuracy or precision is not conveyed.

12. Statistical tables clearly labeled and identified as to questionnaire source, including the number of raw cases forming the base for each cross-tabulation.

13. Copies of Interviewer instructions, validation results, code books, and other important working papers.

C. As a minimum, any general public release of survey findings should include the following information:

1. The sponsorship of the study.

2. A description of the purposes.

3. The sample description and size.

4. The dates of data collection.

5. The names of the research company conducting the study.

6. The exact wording of the questions.

7. Any other information that a lay person would need to make a reasonable assessment of the reported findings.

D. A Survey Research Organization will seek agreements from Clients so that citations of survey findings will be presented to the Research Organization for review and clearance as to accuracy and proper interpretation prior to public release. A Research Organization will advise Clients that if the survey findings publicly disclosed are incorrect, distorted, or incomplete, in the Research Organization's opinion, the Research Organization reserves the right to make its own release of any or all survey findings necessary to make clarification.

Responsibility to Outside Contractors and Interviewers

Research Organizations will not ask any Outside Contractor or Interviewer to engage in any activity which is not acceptable as defined in other sections of this Code of Standards and Ethics for Survey Research or related CASRO publications.