Go to main content

Digitisation, data protection, impact: the RatSWD discusses recent EU science policy

During its 49th meeting, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) discussed the effects of the new EU data protection regulation (GDPR) on the access to sensitive data in research data centres (RDCs), saying it yielded positive results.

The discussion also looked at the current and future significance of anonymity in the digital age. Impact assessment of research data infrastructures and the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) were also on the agenda. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) welcomes the decision by the Innenministerkonferenz (IMK), the standing conference of interior ministers, to grant long-term funding to a national victimisation study, but also addressed the need to closely involve science and research.

During its 49th meeting on 5/6 July 2018, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) positively reviewed the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). On this new legal basis, the RatSWD ascertained that the concept of anonymity can no longer be perceived in absolute terms. Rather, it now implies an assessment of the risk of re-identification: a dataset may be considered anonymised when re-identification may reasonably be deemed unlikely, taking into account the current (technological) conditions.

This aspect is particularly relevant for RatSWD-accredited research data centres (RDCs). RDCs support science and research by providing the individual data necessary to tackle specific issues. The RDCs’ expertise in assessing data protection of research data facilitates practical assessment of a dataset’s anonymity (for more information, see the German Data Forum’s press release of 3 May 2018). The German Data Forum welcomes the research-friendly spirit of the data protection reform.

Impact assessment of research data infrastructures is an important component of sustainable science and funding policy. However, its design must be adjusted to fit the current evaluated infrastructure. Another result of the RatSWD meeting was to stress the relevance of citing datasets in publications. Citation of datasets is necessary to provide incentives for researchers to make their “own” research data available to the scientific community. The annual reporting system implemented across the RatSWD-accredited RDC network is a milestone with regard to the monitoring of established structures. This procedure is being continuously enhanced.

The planned European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) is a comprehensive infrastructure project on the European level, which has the potential to have a profound effect on the future European science system. The EOSC strives to connect formerly incompatible data services and data centres with each other and will thus strengthen the digitisation of science and research in the European Research Area (ERA). The RatSWD supports the EOSC’s mission and the corresponding GO FAIR initiative. It became an official EOSC stakeholder in 2017. The RatSWD and the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) agreed on engaging in an ongoing exchange about the EOSC on a national level and discuss relevant future RatSWD activities. The goal is to give the social, behavioural and economic sciences a stronger voice on the European level.

Findings from the Polizeiliche Kriminalstatistik, crime statistics collected and published by the Federal Criminal Police Office, have been affecting domestic policy for many years. The German Data Forum thus welcomes the decision made by the IMK on 12 July 2018 to grant long-term funding to a national victimisation study as of 2020. The validity of the federal crime statistics depend on independent, routine self-report studies that survey victimisation. According to the RatSWD, close involvement of independent researchers is indispensable and an important contribution to safeguarding survey quality. The RatSWD views the planned base sample of 10,000 interviewees as relatively small in comparison to other German surveys, such as the German Victimisation Survey 2012 and 2017 (30,000 respondents), and surveys in other countries. The RatSWD plans to release an individual statement on aspects of victimisation studies.

The German Data Forum’s next meeting will take place on 8/9 November 2018 in Berlin.