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Better access, better protection: RatSWD position paper on the Research Data Act

The Council for Social and Economic Data (RatSWD) published its position paper "Cornerstones for a Research Data Act". In it, the RatSWD primarily calls for improved access for the scientific community to register and administrative data as well as the safeguarding of the confidentiality of research data.

As the first institution from the scientific community, the RatSWD formulates concrete recommendations in its position paper for the development of a research data law envisaged in the coalition agreement of the SPD, Bündnis90/Die Grünen and FDP, which is intended to enable more effective use of research data. The RatSWD emphasises the central importance of data in the modern knowledge society.

The main demand of the RatSWD to the legislator is to ensure non-discriminatory access to science-based data, official statistical data and administrative data. The regular provision of existing data is a fundamental prerequisite for being able to scientifically analyse the effectiveness of political measures and to provide results for the transfer of knowledge in politics and society. On the basis of good data, scientific analyses can support policy-makers in making evidence-based decisions. The scope of this is currently evident in the – inadequate – data situation on the pandemic in Germany. In addition, non-discriminatory access to data ensures the transparency and quality of scientific findings. In addition, the burden on respondents and data collection agencies is reduced if existing data are re-used.

In parallel to improved access, the German Data Forum (RatSWD) also calls for comprehensive protection of research data. Legislators must ensure the strict confidentiality of personal research data through a research data law. For this reason, the German Data Forum recommends introducing a research secrecy law and supplementing Section 203 of the German Criminal Code (violation of private secrets) to include researchers as professional secrecy holders. If research data is disclosed without authorisation, this could be sanctioned. This would take into account the special relationship between researchers and persons providing information and their protection, and would strengthen trust in research. In order to protect research data, the German Data Forum also recommends that the Code of Criminal Procedure include a right for researchers to refuse to testify and a ban on the seizure of research documents.

“The German Data Forum expressly welcomes the German government’s plan to improve access to research data for public and private research. A Research Data Act is a strong political and social signal. It not only secures the conditions for science, but also confidence in research and enables evidence-based political decisions in times of crisis as well as for an innovative, sustainable society,” explains Prof. Dr. Monika Jungbauer-Gans, Chairwoman of the RatSWD.

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) advises the federal government and the governments in the federal states on expanding and improving the research data infrastructure for the empirical social, behavioural and economic sciences since 2004. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) is made up of ten elected representatives from the social, behavioural, and economic disciplines who work together with ten representatives from key data producers.

The German Data Forum (RatSWD) is part of the Consortium for Social, Behavioural, Educational, and Economic sciences (KonsortSWD) in the National Research Data Infrastructure (NFDI). It acts as an institutionalised forum for dialogue between science and data producers, as well as developing recommendations and opinions. It is committed to supporting an infrastructure that enables sciences to have broad, flexible, and secure data access. These data are provided by state, science-based, and private-sector actors. The German Data Forum (RatSWD) has currently accredited 40 research data centres (as of February 2021), and encourages their cooperation.