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Ethical, legal and commercial (IPR) issues

What are our ethical obligations when sharing research data?

Ethics dictionary entryWhen sharing or archiving confidential data, you have a duty:‌

  • of confidentiality towards participants.
  • to protect participants from harm by not disclosing personal and sensitive information.
  • to treat participants as intelligent beings, able to make their own decisions on how the information they provide is used, shared or made.
  • to inform participants how information and data will be used and shared.
  • to the wider society to make available resources produced by researchers.

When collecting personal or sensitive data, you should consider:

  • Do you really need to collect them or are these being collected for administrative purposes only?
  • That you should inform your participants about the use of personal data.
  • Not all research obtained from participants constitute personal data.

Data protection and research data

 

If you handle personal information about individuals, you have a number of legal obligations to protect that information under the Data Protection Act 1998.

The Data Protection Act (1998) gives individuals certain rights, and imposes obligations on those who record and use personal information to be open about how information is used.  There are eight data protection principles concerning how personal data should be managed:

  1. processed fairly and lawfully
  2. obtained for specified and lawful purposes
  3. adequate, relevant and not excessive
  4. accurate and, where necessary, kept up-to-date
  5. not kept for longer than necessary
  6. processed in accordance with the subject's rights
  7. kept secure
  8. not transferred abroad without adequate protection

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... and our legal obligations?

There are a number of different laws and guidelines surrounding research data such as the Data Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act, etc. and these must be adhered to when managing or sharing personal or sensitive research data. When collecting personal or sensitive data, you should consider:

  • Do you really need to collect them or are these being collected for administrative purposes only?
  • That you should inform your participants about the use of personal data.
  • Not all research obtained from participants constitute personal data.
  • Will you be able to supply information requested under Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation within 20 days (unless there is an exemption that allows the University not to disclose it (see below)?

Freedom of Information and research data

 

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) gives the public a general right of access to information a public authority (in this case the University) holds and places an obligation on the authority to provide the information which has been requested, subject to any valid exemptions. Your research data may be covered by the terms of the Act. Most requests you receive are part of routine business as usual.

Researchers share or trade data all the time, so if you normally agree to share data, you should continue to do so; paying due care to normal research considerations; e.g. ethics, privacy and confidentiality. However, in circumstances where you don't want to supply the data, or you think there are legal or ethical reasons why you shouldn't supply it, or the request is specifically identified as a FoI request, you should consult the University Freedom of Information Officer.

The legislation requires the University to supply information, or a refusal notice within 20 working days from receipt of the request.

NB: requests may come to any member of the University; not just, say, the FoI officer.

More information

Environmental information

 

You may additionally receive requests for data under Environmental Information Regulations where applicable, which exist to provide public access to environmental information held by public authorities. Rules for requests of environmental data are similar to regular FOI requests; however, in compliance with European requirements, publicly-funded bodies have greater responsibility to provide requested environmental data, so it is harder to meet the criteria for an exception (i.e. harder to avoid providing data).

Both FoI and EIR include a number of exemptions and exceptions to protect information such as confidentiality or sensitive data or financially valuable information. If you are concerned, consult the University's FoI Officer.

Research data and copyright

 

Copyright is an intellectual property right, assigned automatically to the creator, that prevents unauthorised copying and publishing of an original work. Copyright applies to research data and plays a role when creating, sharing and reusing data. More information on copyright and how it applies to research data can be found at the UK Data Service website.


Does my data have any unrealised commercial value?

The University's Knowledge Transfer Centre (KTC) can help you determine the value or your research, in this case data, and identify any patent potentiality. The KTC plays a substantial role in assisting you as researchers exploit opportunities for the transfer of know-how, data, results and IP to business and industry and in the University, achieving economic impact from its research activities.


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Contact

Research Data team

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

Tel: (01334) 462343