Privacy and Academic Research

3 March, 2017

This guest blog is courtesy of Marlon Domingus, community lead research data management at Erasmus University Rotterdam. It reflects on their experience of supporting privacy in academic research, providing an infographic as a case study.

It is not easy to make a case against safeguarding privacy in general. As citizens we expect our government and the businesses we purchase services from, to take the necessary measures to protect the data we are willing to share with them, given a specific context.

In the same way citizens, patients, data subjects or any other terms we use for participants in our research, expect their data to be protected by the researcher. If we make privacy the default in our research design, and document this in our data management plan, we can manage the sharing of data post-research more easily. This data sharing helps to contribute to debates in society and enables responsible public-private collaboration.

So, no sensible person objects to safeguarding privacy, a basic right for all. But, this begs the question of HOW? Not only within your own research projects, but also within the collective entity we call the “university". To paraphrase Robert Maynard Hutchins: 'a university is not only a series of schools and departments held together by a central heating system', but also by safeguarding privacy for students, faculty, staff and data subjects. This aspiration can be seen as a moral maxim to:

'Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.'

— Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785)​​

The infographic provides a helicopter view on implementing privacy in academic research. The images lead to underlying information; the frog perspective of safeguarding privacy yourself. 

Please share your views and comments with Marlon