The Researcher Passport: Improving Data Access and Confidentiality Protection

Report by Margaret C. Levenstein, Allison R.B. Tyler, and Johanna Davidson Bleckman: “Research and evidence-building benefit from the increased availability of administrative datasets, linkage across datasets, detailed geospatial data, and other confidential data. Systems and policies for provisioning access to confidential data, however, have not kept pace and indeed restrict and unnecessarily encumber leading-edge science.

One series of roadblocks can be smoothed or removed by establishing a common understanding of what constitutes different levels of data sensitivity and risk as well as minimum researcher criteria for data access within these levels. This report presents the results of a recently completed study of 23 data repositories.

It describes the extant landscape of policies, procedures, practices, and norms for restricted data access and identifies the significant challenges faced by researchers interested in accessing and analyzing restricted use datasets.

It identifies commonalities among these repositories to articulate shared community standards that can be the basis of a community-normed researcher passport: a credential that identifies a trusted researcher to multiple repositories and other data custodians.

Three main developments are recommended.

First, language harmonization: establishing a common set of terms and definitions – that will evolve over time through collaboration within the research community – will allow different repositories to understand and integrate shared standards and technologies into their own processes.

Second: develop a researcher passport, a durable and transferable digital identifier issued by a central, community-recognized data steward. This passport will capture researcher attributes that emerged as common elements of user access requirements across repositories, including training, and verification of those attributes (e.g., academic degrees, institutional affiliation, citizenship status, and country of residence).

Third: data custodians issue visas that grant a passport holder access to particular datasets for a particular project for a specific period of time. Like stamps on a passport, these visas provide a history of a researcher’s access to restricted data. This history is integrated into the researcher’s credential, establishing the researcher’s reputation as a trusted data steward….(More)