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Health Surveillance, Ethics of

  1. Amy L. Fairchild,
  2. David Merritt Johns

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee709

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Fairchild, A. L. and Johns, D. M. 2013. Health Surveillance, Ethics of. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Ethics in the context of public health surveillance can be understood as the principles and values that guide the collection and use of names for the surveillance of infectious and chronic diseases (see Infectious Diseases). The practice of public health traditionally has been animated by a concern for the well-being of populations. Public health ethics (see Public Health Ethics) reflects that orientation, providing a foundation for the affirmative duty to monitor threats to health, intervene to promote the public good, engage in research activities that produce generalizable knowledge, and promptly disseminate findings from such efforts to health officials, other stakeholders, and the public at large (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1986). At the same time, there is consensus that surveillance activities designed to safeguard the public's health must be subject to some limits involving individual rights (Childress et al. 2002). Thus, even while prioritizing affirmative duties to promote population health, public health ethics has been characterized as a “code of restraint” that strives to fairly preserve the rights of individuals to noninterference (Kass 2001: 1777). In the case of surveillance, individual concerns and subsequent restraints typically involve claims to privacy (see Privacy).


  • ethics;
  • medicine;
  • practical (applied) ethics;
  • health;
  • privacy