Systematically Handicapped? Social Research in the Data Protection Framework

Working Paper version of an article published in 20 Information and Communications Technology Law 83 (2011)

Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18/2011

30 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2011 Last revised: 18 Aug 2015

See all articles by David Erdos

David Erdos

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law; Trinity Hall

Date Written: February 18, 2011

Abstract

Through a careful analysis of the UK’s Data Protection Act 1998, this article demonstrates that the EU regime for personal data processing seriously threatens research into social (including political and historical) affairs. The core values of data protection – certainty, transparency, notice, informational self-determination, data minimization and confidentiality – are in clear tension with the often fluid, norm-challenging, sometimes covert, individual and even identifiable nature of much social research. Three of its key provisions, the ‘fair and lawful processing’ requirement (principle one), the right of subject access (principle six) and the general ban on extra-EEA data export (principle eight), are in fundamental conflict with key research methodologies. Moreover, especially given the broad definition of ‘personal data’ under this regime, the labyrinthine nature of the law as a whole has led to Universities implementing policies and procedures which further restrict investigative activity. This curtails academic freedom leaving key forms of knowledge production systematically handicapped, thereby damaging society’s long term interests. The article argues that consideration should be given to whether social research could benefit from the more liberal data protection arrangements for ‘journalism literature and art’. In addition, the effects of this regime on academia must be fully addressed in the review of the law now underway.

Keywords: Data Protection, Privacy, Freedom of Expression, Qualitative Research, Scientific Research, Academic Freedom, Journalism, Personal Data, Subject Access, Data Export, Purpose Specification, Security

JEL Classification: K2, K29

Suggested Citation

Erdos, David, Systematically Handicapped? Social Research in the Data Protection Framework (February 18, 2011). Working Paper version of an article published in 20 Information and Communications Technology Law 83 (2011); Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18/2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1762700 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1762700

David Erdos (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.cam.ac.uk/people/academic/d-o-erdos/5972

Trinity Hall ( email )

University of Cambridge
Trinity Lane
Cambridge, CB2 1TJ
United Kingdom

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