Research News
Information to enhance your success at UNL | UNL Office of Research | Nov. 2014

Top Tip 

Protecting research data

Computer and data security are critical, often complex, concerns for researchers, especially those who gather data related to human subjects. Any project plan should include measures to ensure the security of information collected from human subjects, especially records that identify specific individuals.Common dangers to be aware of – and to prepare for – include:

  • Stolen flash drives
  • Security weaknesses in computers (including laptops), recording devices or email
  • Loss of information in subject files
  • Requests for information from outside entities

To mitigate damage that might result from such incidents, protocols and project plans should call for encryption of data and password protection of computers, data recorders and hard drives. If data are to be collected outside research space at UNL, plans should take into account where information will be stored and transferred, the risk to subjects if it is misplaced or stolen and the level of security needed to protect it.

The National Human Research Protections Advisory Committee recommends a number of strategies that minimize the need to collect identifiable data about human subjects. The first step is to determine if there is a legitimate reason to collect or maintain identifiers. Data often can be collected anonymously, or the identifiers can be removed and destroyed after various data have been merged.

If it is necessary to collect and maintain identifiable data, researchers should assess the potential risk of harm that might result from disclosure of those data and devise a plan that describes the appropriate level of confidentiality protections. All members of the research team and staff should receive training about how to secure and maintain confidentiality and safeguard data. Data should be physically secure, and all identifiable, confidential data not intended for secure archiving should be destroyed.

The protection of information about individual human subjects is vital to maintain public trust and participation in research conducted at UNL.

For additional information and help in identifying, planning and securing confidential research data contact Research Compliance Services at (402) 472-6965.

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