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Legal Aspects of Data Management

Launched: Research data office
25 June 2015
Source: informatiebrochure Energysense
Source: informatiebrochure Energysense
Text: Esther Hoorn, LL.M, Legal Affairs department, University of Groningen

One law for research data. That seems practical. The reality is different. Hard and soft law will influence each data management plan in a different way. Awareness on how this works is needed to seek contractual, technical and organizational solutions. A new series of interviews aims to achieve this and explore the whole map of different kinds of regulations.

In the interviews in the Catching Innovation, Esther Hoorn , will talk with researchers and supporting staff to bring to light which laws and principles govern sharing research data. Esther is participant in the RDO-network and legal advisor on data management.

Privacy law requires data minimalisation , the VSNU-code of conduct for academic practice requires archiving for ten year. The advice of an ethical committee stimulates self-regulation on careful procedures for patients and participants, yet for their personal data the final responsibility lies with the university board. In grant agreements you’ll find clauses about intellectual property (IP) and confidentiality, at the same time funders require measures on re-use of data. IP builts on exclusivity, whereas Societal valorization can build on access to data. As Jan de Jeu, vice president of the University of Groningen, stresses in a recent interview on big data, collaboration with research will strengthen the ecosystem with data industry activities in the northern Netherland. So awareness is needed and discussing legal issues in an early stage of a project may prevent that perceived legal risks become a barrier.

Esther Hoorn, LL.M
Esther Hoorn, LL.M

For example, energysense searches for a technical solution through privacy by design. Smart meter data and interviews with personal information of households: from a legal point of view the energysense ambition to set up a database for longitudinal research is certainly a challenging one. Yet, the common feeling is that collaboration can be effective to find new solutions for data management, which support innovative approaches to research. Even solutions that are beneficial to the participants and lead to transparency and societal impact.

In a recent meeting lawyers and technicians explored the possibilities of privacy by design . “Like the police, also researchers want to have all the data they can get,”explains Jeanne Mifsud Bonnici , one of the prominent researchers in STeP, the Groningen Security, Technology and e-Privacy Research Group, “We need to find a balance.” Ioannis Giottis , senior Data Scientist at Target Holding, watches the database with postcodes and ponders on his own experience as a researcher. “Indeed researchers would like to play with all the data. But they would not need the six digits of the postcode. We can use k-anonymity . By limiting the amount of characters the participants will not be identifiable.” It is good to see that we have skilled and involved experts in Groningen.

The helping hand of the Research Data Office

When Elmer Sterken, rector magnificus, initiated the Groningen data management policy he wanted commitment of research institutes to good data-management and visibility on a national scale. A research data office (RDO) that gives support. An institutional policy that will clarify legal concerns and outline principles and responsibilities. And institutes that will write down how data are archived and shared for the type of research of the institute. This is the three-pronged approach, launched in 2013.

Now the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. You can find the policy and practical advice on the website of the RDO . For legal issues Groningen is active in a national network. A wiki is under construction, with a detailed analysis of the legal and ethical requirements and the corresponding best practices, template paragraphs and model agreements. A playful tool to enhance discussion is this moodboard that maps instruments to regulate sharing of research data.

Mapping Ownership of Data


This moodboard can be helpful in discussions on research projects to negotiate about an appropriate level of openness. Openness might at first be restricted to fellow researchers from whom the general public benefits through their publication of research findings, thus contributing to public knowledge. Principles in research codes point out that research data should be available to colleagues who want to replicate the study or elaborate on its findings. At the same time, discussions on valorization and requirements of research funders make it imperative to consider open data. To be realistic: within Academia the role of the individual researcher and his / her motives for not creating open data should not be underestimated. Even in astronomy where sharing data is the default setting, sometimes an embargo is given to a researcher to be the first to publish about his findings.

Let us know what you think

We are interested to hear your point of view. We appreciate receiving your feedback. Do you want to set your data management plan in the spotlight? Or do you want to stimulate re-use of your data by using a Creative Commons licence? Do you want legal issues addressed in the training program for PhD’s? Or do you need advice on the requirements of funders? Let us know.

If you want to help to identify the different legal issues at stake through an interview or if you want advice, please contact the Reseach Data Office .

Expert-meeting the Privacy Paleis

Do you want to be involved in an expert-network on privacy? With the local privacy network in Groningen, aptly called the Privacy Paleis , we are planning an expert meeting on verifiability and privacy. To be announced soon.

Last modified:25 April 2019 07.20 a.m.

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