Big Data: Open Data and Legal Strings

Data sharing is at the heart of future research. In defiance of legislative initiatives to promote open data, anecdotal evidence suggests that data remains inaccessible, underutilised or in other manners closed off for publicly funded research projects. This cross cutting activity scrutinised the legal challenges of open data.

  • Project description (completed research project)

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    In a first step, information has been collected through semi-structured qualitative interviews with researchers from different NRP 75 and NRP 77 projects as well as with collaborators administrating research from different areas. A legal analysis of the findings of the empirical study provided insight on gaps in the regulatory framework concerning data access for public research; it also revealed practical problems. Relevant legal sources for solutions have been identified and then analysed for scope and impact with a focus on a manageable approach in research practice. Finally, the results have been phrased as core recommendations when researchers engage in open access data sharing in publicly funded research.

  • Background

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    The evolution of digital data storage and increase in technology has led to the proliferation of large databases offering potentially excellent options for research. With research proposals for public funding at hand, the question how to gain access to and how to grant access to data arises for almost every publicly funded research. This question is related on the one hand to the issue of who actually has authority over the use of data for scientific studies, which arises in a number of situations. On the other hand privacy issues, problems linked to consents given by individuals and “recycling” of data as well as copyright issues arise.

  • Aim

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    The overall objective was to define the central issues concerning the problem of access to data in publicly funded research in Switzerland. The goal was to map, to sort and to analyse specific cases to document the challenges and questions of open data for future publicly funded science projects. Ultimately, a decision-tree must be developed and amended over time, showing the main challenges for researchers, administrators and institutions. This will allow those engaging in open data research to briefly examine their area for potential legal challenges.

  • Relevance

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    Researchers involved in big data-projects (NRP 75 and NRP 77) raised a large number of questions regarding legal problems within their projects concerning recycling of data. Research using big data applications requires access to large data pools and the legal challenges are both novel and pressing in many of the projects. It will be crucial for a sustainable open data-policy to map the framework, analyse specific issues and their underlying legal problems to ensure that publicly funded studies aimed at open access publications and data policies can be put to work in the future.

  • Results

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    Data sharing is at the heart of publicly funded research. The SNSF encourages an environment of open data, i.e. research data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed. However, open data comes with new challenges and various legal issues. The scientists engaging in open data often face practical hurdles, legal challenges as well as resource limitations:

    1. Practical Challenges with Open Data - definitional challenges; - lack of clear distinctions (e.g. Open Data and FAIR data); - data quality (maintenance, sustainability); - lack of “standards” for best practice open access.
    2. Legal Challenges with Open Data - lack of regulatory framework for Open Data (e.g. regarding “data ownership”, copyright law, licenses, data rights, consent, privacy); - open questions concerning data protection, anonymisation of data, legally valid consent for data recycling.
    3. Organisational and Financial Challenges - challenges with the “organisation” of Open Data; - costs of providing access to Open Data; - choice of a repository (e.g. international or national, technical conditions and timeline for publishing Open Data).
  • Original title

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    Big Data: Open Data and Legal Strings - Mapping the Ground for Public Funding Research Projects