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6. Use of Personal Data in Research


IntroductionClipboard and pen

Data Protection legislation sets out to ensure that researchers may only process data about other living individuals where they have a clear legal purpose for doing so and subject to certain prescribed exemptions, the use of personal information for research falls within its remit. Staff and students engaged in research at the University are obliged therefore to comply with the requirements of the data protection principles, this Code of Practice, the Research and Data Protection Guidance ​and any associated guidance, when collecting and processing personal data for research purposes. In addition to computerised records these requirements apply to written records held in a structured filing system, digital and microfiche records and video recordings. Students who are authorised to hold or process personal data on computer, online or in manual format are also required to sign an  Oath of Confidentiality at the start of their research project.


6.1 Factors to Consider in Using Personal Data for Research

There are two options to consider in using personal data for research:
a) Comply with Data Protection Legislation; or
b) Anonymise the data to be used so that it no longer falls within the legislation's definition of personal data.

 6.1.1  Option a) means that all the requirements of Data Protection Legislation must be met and sections 6.2 to 6.5 below apply.

 6.1.2  Option b) means that the personal data to be used must be completely anonymised.  This will only be achieved if it is impossible to identify the subjects from that information together with any other information that the University holds or is likely to hold. If that is the case then the data may be used without making arrangements to comply with Data Protection Legislation since the data will no longer fall within the legislation's definition of personal data.

 Guidance on anonymisation has been published by the UK Information Commissioner's Office in a Code of Practice on Anonymisation.


6.2 Processing for Research Purposes

6.2.1  Where processing for research purposes (including statistical or historical purposes) is not used to support measures or decisions targeted at particular individuals, will not be detrimental to the rights and freedoms of the data subject, and is subject to the safeguards laid out in the legislation (DPA Part 2 Ch 2 S.19) the data gathered for research purposes is exempt from being processed in accordance with the second and fifth data protection principles.

 6.2.2  This means that personal information can be:

  • processed for purposes other than those for which it was originally obtained.  e.g. researchers can keep records of questionnaires and contacts so that the research can be re-visited at a later date or so that the information can be re-analysed in support of a research project looking at an associated area; and
  • held indefinitely, where appropriate and necessary for longitudinal and major projects subject to substantial funding and funding body arrangements.

Test tubes6.2.3  However remaining Data Protection Principles must be observed. This means therefore that:

  • Research subjects should be informed of any new data processing purposes, that the University is the Data Controller and any disclosures that may be made
  • Research subjects must be able to meaningfully exercise their rights under the legislation 
  • Requirements for appropriate security of data must be observed, particularly those for the security of special category personal data
  • Data may not be transferred to researchers outwith the European Economic Area (EEA) unless:

o that country has adequate data privacy protections

o the explicit consent of the subject(s) has been obtained; or

o there is an appropriate data protection contract with the data recipient

6.2.4  There is also an exemption from an individual's right of access where:

  • Personal data is not processed to support measures or decisions with respect to particular individuals
  • Personal data is not processed in a way that is detrimental or is likely to be detrimental to an individual's rights or freedoms to any individual
  • The research results, or any associated statistics, are effectively anonymised

6.2.5  However, the University may still choose to disclose the information to the data subject, unless by doing so this would breach another individual's data protection rights.

6.2.6  The legislation recognises that the value of access to personal data in research may outweigh an individual's desire to exercise a high level of control over the use of their data. Researchers wishing to use special category personal data can do so under GDPR Art 9.2.(j), if they can demonstrate that it is proportionate to the aim pusued, they have secured the approval of the School Research Integrity Committee and they adhere to the procedural safeguards required by law.



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