Stuck in the Thicket? Social Research Under the First Data Protection Principle
Working Paper Version of article published in 19 International Journal of Law and Information Technology 133 (2011)
24 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2011 Last revised: 18 Aug 2015
Date Written: December 22, 2010
Through a systematic analysis of the United Kingdom Data Protection Act's first data protection principle, this paper demonstrates that the European Union's data protection regime seriously threatens research into social (including political and historical) affairs. The rules for registering processing with the data protection authority, providing data subjects with information notification and the severe limitations of the processing of "sensitive" personal data are all in fundamental conflict with certain types of important social research. Additionally, the complexity of the law inevitably leads "risk-averse" universities to further restrict research activity. This not only curtails academic freedom but also suppresses knowledge production in ways which damage society generally. The article concludes by contrasting the onerous regulation of "research" with the significantly more liberal regime for "journalism literature and art." It argues that data protection authorities and others should consider whether social research might benefit from this more liberal regime. Even if that proves unachievable, these issues should be addressed in the review of the law now underway.
Keywords: Data Protection, Ethical Review, Freedom of Expression, Research, Academic Freedom, Deception, Journalism, Privacy
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