Data sharing review promotes ‘safe havens’

The final report of a major review of data sharing has been released today by the Ministry of Justice. Co-authored by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, and Wellcome Trust director, Mark Walport, the report considers whether changes are required to existing data protection legislation and provide recommendations on how data-sharing policy should be developed to ensure proper transparency, scrutiny and accountability.

The report makes a number of recommendations on the way that we, as an organisation which undertakes population-based research statistical analysis, might minimise the risk of identifying individuals. It suggests that safe havens should be developed that have the following characteristics:

  1. they provide a secure environment for processing identifiable personal data.
  2. only ‘approved researchers’ can gain access to the data.
  3. there should be penalties for anyone who abuses personal data.

It is suggested that these would allow important statistical and research analysis to proceed, while minimising the risk of identifying individuals from within datasets, and it draws on the experience gained from the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 in which approved researchers are granted access to personal information held by the Statistics Board for the purposes of statistical research.

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