Privacy, Policy and Open Data

Privacy and Open Data

While open data should be governed by the FAIR principles to promote transparency and reproducibility, not all data can or should be made open. There are always privacy, ethical, or cultural issues to consider.

Some data may contain personal or other sensitive information that should not be readily accessible. For example, open data that contains the location of a rare plant or species at risk may further endanger that species if others are able to locate it. We should also consider personal information that may be available when collecting data and whether it is ethical to share that information widely. Consultation with a Research Ethics Board may be necessary before making personal information open. In Canada, the Tri-Council Policy Statement on the Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Human (TCPS-2) provides guidelines for research and the use of research data.

There are methods to de-identify data and repositories may offer options to keep the data closed or embargoed. Good data documentation (i.e., metadata) will protect sensitive data while still making it valuable to others. Even in cases where data can’t be openly shared (due to ethical or privacy issues), a best practice is to let others know the data exists by creating a description of your data and using a metadata standard so others can find it, cite it, and request access, if that is an option. 

Policy and Open Data

Open data may be required by granting agencies or journals as part of their agreement for funding or publication. For example, in Canada, the Tri-Agency Statement of Principles on Digital Data Management stipulates that, “research data collected with the use of public funds belong, to the fullest extent possible, in the public domain and available for reuse by others.” Read the Tri-Agency Research Data Management Policy and reflect on how this might impact how you manage your data.

Some publishers are also requiring open data and have various policy requirements in place. There are now journals entirely dedicated to publishing data from all domains, such as Scientific Data and the Research Data Journal for the Humanities and Social Sciences. The Transparency and Openness Promotion guidelines outline standards journals may adopt to demonstrate how the journal has introduced open practices.