Publishing and sharing sensitive data

23 Sep 2014

Sensitive data has often been excluded from discussions about data publication and sharing. It was believed that sharing sensitive data is not ethical or that it is too difficult to do safely. This opinion has changed with greater understanding and use of methods to ‘de-sensitise’ (i.e., confidentialise) data; that is, modify the data to remove information so that participants or subjects are no longer identifiable, and the capacity to grant ‘conditional access’ to data. Requirements of publishers and funding bodies for researchers to publish and share their data have also seen sensitive data sharing increase.

This guide outlines best practice for the publication and sharing of sensitive research data in the Australian context. The Guide follows the sequence of steps that are necessary for publishing and sharing sensitive data, as outlined in the ‘Publishing and Sharing Sensitive Data Decision Tree’. It provides the detail and context to the steps in this Decision Tree. References for further reading are provided for those that are interested.

By following the sections below, and steps within, you will be able to make clear, lawful, and ethical decisions about sharing your data safely. It can be done in most cases!

How the Guide interacts with your institutional policies

This Guide is not intended to override institutional policies on data management or publication. Most researchers operate within the policies of their institution and/or funding arrangement and must, therefore, ensure their decisions about data publication align with these policies. This is particularly relevant for Intellectual Property, and sometimes, your classification of sensitive data (e.g., NSW Government Department of Environment & Heritage, Sensitive Data Species Policy) or selection of data repository. The Guide indicates the steps at which you should check your institutional policies.

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