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How does the EU data protection reform affect research data centres?

Anonymisation of personal data and the informed consent by participants of scientific studies were the two main topics of the 18th meeting of the FDI Committee of the German Data Forum (Rat für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsdaten, RatSWD) on 26 April in Berlin.

The meeting made concrete the ways in which the EU General Data Protection Regulation affects the day-to-day business of research data centres (RDCs). The FDI Committee plans to accelerate efforts to increase cooperation between the 31 RDCs accredited by RatSWD until 2020, which aim to optimise the data and services RDCs provide to researchers. This includes expanding the RDC network. Two RDCs, which are currently in the set-up phase, presented themselves at the meeting: the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) and eLabour.

The 31 research data centres (RDCs), accredited by the German Data Forum (RatSWD) make datasets available to researchers that may contain data from surveys or registers pertaining to individuals. Such sensitive data, which are known as microdata, can only be accessed for research purposes and in strict accordance with data protection regulation.

As of 25 May 2018, all EU member states must directly apply the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The FDI Committee invited an expert to its 18th Meeting on 26 April 2018 in Berlin to extensively discuss the practical implications of the reform for the day-to-day activities of RDCs. The discussion focused on the new requirements for anonymisation of microdata as well as modified regulations regarding informed consent and processing of personal data. Moreover, the committee discussed, for example, the conditions under which re-use of data collected during a specific research project is permissible.

In its current strategic agenda, the FDI Committee determined four fields of activity until 2020: (1) harmonisation of processes in the RDCs (e.g., data use contracts), (2) the expansion of access to research data from RDCs, for example, via guest researcher work stations,  (3) the opening up of the existing data infrastructure for scientific and official data producers, and (4) the advancement of skill development training for the RDCs’ employees and data users. A new FDI task force will deal with the topic of processing of large volumes of data. Its activities reflect the fact that the challenges and opportunities created by digitisation are increasingly addressed by the RDCs.

The FDI Committee’s aim to improve the availability of data for science and research was also reflected by the presentations of the Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, KBA) and eLabour RDCs, which are both currently in the set-up phase. In the foreseeable future, these RDCs will provide researchers with data from, for example, the National Driver Register (Fahreignungsregister) and qualitative data from relevant research facilities that deal with work and industrial sociology from recent decades, respectively.

The FDI Committee’s next meeting will take place on 1-2 October in Cologne. Key aspects of the 19th meeting will be the European-level and international aspects of the FDI Committee’s activities.

The FDI Committee’s strategic agenda is available online at: https://www.ratswd.de/forschungsdaten/fdi-arbeitsprogramm_2017-20