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Access control

Under certain circumstances, sensitive and confidential data can be safeguarded by regulating or restricting access to - and use of - data, while at the same time enabling data sharing for research and educational purposes.

Access to data is typically managed by reviewing and controlling:

  • Who has access to the data?
  • What part of the data?
  • During what time period?
  • For how long?
  • For what use?

Requests for data access may come from:

  • Researchers
  • Funders
  • Freedom of Information (FoI) requests
  • The University

You may have a simple access policy, but you may also need to consider more complicated access control in the following cases:

  • Subject/patient privacy
  • Legal issues
  • Intellectual Property
  • Competitive advantage
  • Funder mandates

Few researchers often work in the same location, so it is also worth considering early in the project that remote access to the data will probably be required.

Confidential data

For confidential data, additional access controls may be required, which can include:

  • needing specific authorisation from the data owner to access data
  • placing confidential data under embargo for a given period of time until confidentiality is no longer pertinent
  • providing access to approved researchers only
  • providing secure access to data by enabling remote analysis of confidential data but excluding the ability to download data.

Access controls should always be proportionate to the kind of data and level of confidentiality involved. Mixed levels of access control may be put in place for some data, combining controlled access to confidential data with standard access to non-confidential data. Also, some data is "compound", in the sense that a signle document may be composed of elements with different permissions and restrictions; for example, a document making use of ten Geographical Information Systems (GIS) layers may have three that are commercial with more stringent sharing constraints.

More Information


Research Data team

University of St Andrews Library
North Street
St Andrews
KY16 9TR
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: (01334) 462343