Data collectors and depositors should consider the legal and ethical framework within which empirical research operates throughout Europe and how its activities are impeded or assisted by this framework.
Practices Differ across Europe
The data protection issues are particularly complex, and the differing levels of implementation of the European Data Directive of 1995 in the individual European states means that data depositors should consult their local archive for the most relevant information.
Sources of Information
The following sources of information should prove useful as regards data protection issues:
- The European Commission website on Data Protection contains information about legislation, international transfers and an analysis of implementation in the member states. There is also a useful reference to all Data Protection Commissioners in EU countries available.
- The web pages of the PRIVIREAL project are a good source of information on the Data Directive and its implications. PRIVIREAL was a European Commission funded project examining the implementation of the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC in relation to research and the role of ethics committees. One of the major objectives of this project was, mainly in the context of medical research, to describe and evaluate ways the Directive has been implemented (or intended to be implemented).
There are several possible controls to protect confidentiality. The CESSDA archives can provide assistance in making decisions concerning which course to follow.
- Anonymising material prior to preservation and sharing using methods such as perturbation or other techniques for the release of data that change the data before the dissemination in such a way that the disclosure risk for the confidential data is decreased but the information content is retained as far as possible.
- The restriction of access by requiring users to sign up to legally binding conditions of use.
- Technological controls which prevent unauthorised users from accessing sensitive materials.
- Data enclave or a secure data analysis laboratory that allows researchers access to the original data in a controlled setting.
- The creation of public use data files or restricted-use data collections.