This is fine but some caution is needed about what is publicly accessible or available and how. Swinburne researchers are beholden to appropriate or applicable regulatory, ethical and professional standards and guidelines when proposing or conducting research.
If human research activity is taking place, then research proposals would need formal ethical review at the appropriate level. One matter to appreciate is the concern regarding how information has been collected and used. Sometimes this is expressed in the questions "how did the researcher get my contact details?" or "who is keeping tabs on me?" or the statement "I gave my information for a particular purpose only, not for just any use."
Is identifiable information about individuals seen in a public record being recorded by a researcher? In some circumstances the information recorded could in effect be deemed "personal information" or "health information" and is then subject to applicable federal or state privacy legislation or professional/ethical standards based on the privacy legislation. The applicable standards are variously referred to as: "Information Privacy Principles (IPPs)", "National Privacy Principles (NPPs)", "Victorian Information Privacy Principles (VIPPs)" and "Health Privacy Principles (HPPs)", depending on the legislation or jurisdiction.
Using the telephone directory to select and contact participants can also raise a question or two. It is not necessarily that you cannot use the telephone directory for research purposes, but some care is needed to minimise or prevent unnecessary concern on the part of individuals affected. A concern can be who is keeping tabs on a participant? Is it necessary for a researcher to keep a database of identifiable information/contacts? If a database were to be built up from publicly available information and kept as a database of some sort, this would need to be consistent with applicable privacy principles/standards; if the database is for research purposes, then prior ethics clearance would be needed for this. In certain cases, it may also mean notifying the individuals concerned with their right to opt out of the database.
Stricter guidelines can apply. For example, the publicly available Electoral Roll can only be used in line with what the Electoral Act mandates or allows. A shareholder listing may only be used in line with the purpose for which it was collected and disclosed. Please also be aware of restrictions covering publicly available probate or land title records that are not exempted under privacy laws.
Information collected or used from social networking sites or the internet also require some care, such as noting if there are explicit conditions of access or use.
The National Statement specifies:
“Data or information available on the internet can range from information that is fully in the public domain (such as books, newspapers and journal articles), to information that is public, but where individuals who have made it public may consider it to be private, to information that is fully private in character. The guiding principle for researchers is that, although data or information may be publicly available, this does not automatically mean that the individuals with whom this data or information is associated have necessarily granted permission for its use in research. Therefore, use of such information will need to be considered in the context of the need for consent or the waiver of the requirement for consent by a reviewing body and the risks associated with the use of this information.”