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Restrictions on science averted: longer retention periods for data from the national company register

The Bundestag has agreed on changes to the Federal Statistical Act on 28 April 2016. Following the recommendations of the Committee on Internal Affairs, the house decided on a 30-year retention period for data from the national business register. Moreover, the periods is now set to begin after a survey has been concluded. The previous bill stated that company identifiers should be deleted after 10 years and set the beginning of the retention periods to the beginning of a survey.

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has successfully called attention to this problem at an early stage and has been in close contact with the responsible lawmakers.

The RatSWD welcomes the Bundestag’s decision and wishes to thank the numerous representatives who were committed to making the law more research-friendly. We were able to avert significant restrictions on scientific research, says Prof. Riphahn, chairwoman of the German Data Forum. Had the bill not been changed, the relevant data would have soon not been available to scientific evaluation and data linkage.
The German Data Forum has successfully called attention to the problematic retention periods early on in the political process in close exchange with the responsible lawmakers and in cooperation with ARGE, the working group of German economic research institutes, the German economic association Verein für Socialpolitik (VfS), and the statistical offices. In a statement on the draft bill, the Bundesrat had also recommended extending retention periods.
Linking economic and environmental microdata by way of company identifiers enable researchers to trace economic developments and business cycles. The analyses of long-term economic effects of demographic developments or political decisions are only possible on the basis of long-term statistical time series. This includes issues such as the current influx of refugees as well as the effects of the statutory minimum wage.
The initially proposed 10-year retention period would have had fatal consequences for long-term economic analyses and for evidence-based policy advice. By setting the retention period to 30 years, the Bundestag has satisfied an important need of science, namely to be able to analyse statistics including time series, panel data, and longitudinal data.
The company register is part of the official statistics and is maintained by the Federal Statistical Office and the state statistical offices. It is a frequently updated database of companies whose revenues are taxable and employees are subject to social insurance.