Tiered Access to Research Data for Secondary Analysis

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John E Marcotte
Sarah Rush
Kelly Ogden-Schuette


Research data have expanded in their gradation of the risks associated with both re-identification
and harm, which has created a need for multiple levels of access controls beyond public and
restricted access. Public-access data have typically been available for download from websites
while restricted-access data usually require an application and formal authorization process. The
old paradigm of classifying data as public-access or restricted-access is no longer sufficient. Access
to research data requires more nuance to ensure the protection of human subjects.
In this paper, we describe seven tiers of access to research data. Each tier adds requirements that
are necessary to mitigate disclosure risk and confirm appropriate management of the data. Improper
handling of the data includes attempting to find a specific individual or household or failing to
follow disclosure protection rules for data and output included in papers and presentations. By
establishing a ladder of access conditions, each higher tier meets and exceeds the requirements of
the lower tiers. While the highest tier meets all requirements, this tier will impede legitimate
research for most data. The challenge for repositories is to provide access in a manner that promotes
research while specifying security that provides appropriate protections against the risks of re-identification and harm.

The tiers operationalize risk management options. The requirements of the research data determine the appropriate tier.
Several articles and reports develop frameworks for providing access to research data. We review
these frameworks as well as the current practices at data archives and describe how our approach
differs from these paradigms. While tiered access to research data is not a new idea, more than two
or three levels are needed to meet the diverse needs of the research community. The tiered approach
enables repositories to require sufficient security controls without creating unnecessary
impediments to research

Article Details

How to Cite
Marcotte, John E, Sarah Rush, and Kelly Ogden-Schuette. 2023. “Tiered Access to Research Data for Secondary Analysis”. Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality 13 (2). https://doi.org/10.29012/jpc.825.
NAHDAP-ICPSR restricted data workshop

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