There are situations when access to research data may need to be restricted. These restrictions are most likely to arise out of the regulatory framework or the contractual arrangements that governed the generation of the research data. This guidance note outlines the main points to consider and provides a framework to help you reach a decision on when access restriction to research data is appropriate either on a temporary or permanent basis. This will need to be tensioned against the requirements of the funders and public expectations to make research results available.
For further guidance contact Legal Services. See also the Information Commissioner's Office Guide to Anonymisation
Similar provisions are likely to apply to researchers working with classified information / data. In such cases, the terms of the contract will expressly stipulate how such data should be managed which may include requirements for dedicated hardware and software environments and strict control on access or sharing.
In addition, there is often a positive obligation from our non-commercial sponsors (RCUK, Medical Charities, Government Departments, EU) to consider the protection and commercialisation of any Intellectual Property Rights arising from the research they are funding. This may require a temporary delay in the release of research data until the commercial potential of the idea is assessed and protection secured (if appropriate). Only a very small proportion of the IPR generated across the University will warrant patent protection and necessitate temporary restriction on sharing. The value of the majority of University IP will be derived through publication and widest dissemination which in turn, may create opportunities. If you think your IP may have commercial potential, advice from your Collaboration Manager in RIS should be sought at the earliest opportunity to allow sufficient time for a commercial assessment.
Confidentiality obligations will also arise from the contractual arrangements entered into for research. Industry usually is very cautious but so are government departments and public sector organisations. Whereas RIS will seek to secure terms and conditions that maximise your academic freedom (including the right to publish and to re-use the research outputs), industry sponsors will often impose confidentiality obligations and restrictions on the Intellectual Property Rights (including research data) arising from the work they fund at the University. Where consultancy terms are imposed because the research is more “applied”, it is most likely no on-going rights can be preserved. It is also worth bearing in mind that if you are working in collaboration with other universities, there may be joint ownership issues. These need to be agreed and should be covered by the proposal and collaboration agreement. Advice on the terms and conditions governing research projects should be sought from the Research Support Officer in your Faculty.
Restrictions on access to research data during and after the end of the project need to be addressed in the initial research proposal and throughout the life of the project as part of your data management plan. Some Funders may require statements justifying why data should be restricted as part of their application process. This may also need to be addressed in ethics applications.
Note that those datasets identified as being unsuitable for sharing still need to be managed and stored in accordance with the University policy. Access can be restricted by adding the appropriate metadata on the deposit form. Identification and security of sensitive data is important. Sensitive data should be flagged at the start of a project in a data management plan.
Any request for access to your research data under the Freedom of Information Act should be directed to the University FOI Officer in Legal Services.