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Secure Data Access

Bringing together advice from across LSE

Find out how to go about accessing secure data for your research projects. 

Introduction

The term secure data refers to confidential or sensitive data that can only be accessed under special license conditions. Examples include NHS data, financial and taxation data, immigration and census data, commercial data and so on.

Secure data is used frequently in research at LSE and a cross working group involving representation from the Library, DTS, Cyber Security, the RLAB and the Secretary’s Division has been developed to help deliver this research data to researchers.

Get an agreement to access secure data signed

Requesting secure data can be a complicated process and delivery timings will depend on what kind of data you’re requesting and the data supplier.

A typical secure data request will involve the following steps:

1. Complete the Cyber Security Awareness Couse.

2. Email us to request access to the data. Provide details of the dataset you'd like to access, preferably with web links and any license agreements or details of correspondence you've already received from the data supplier.

3. We'll request that you fill in a data management plan. We'll also discuss the best access route for you.

4. Some agreements are standard agreements and don't need to be looked over by our legal team. For these agreements we'll ask Cyber Security to review the license as well as the data management plan and advise on whether the chosen secure access route is viable.

5. For non-standard agreements we'll need legal advisors from within the School to look the agreement over and offer comments. Please note that this is a busy service, and some agreements can be complicated. Our legal advisors reserve the right to question the terms of data agreements, particularly if the agreement involves liability for the School or the researcher.

6. If a data sharing agreement is in a foreign language then the researcher will need to provide an accredited translation to the legal team at their own expense.

7. For agreements that require an institutional signature ie, a signature from a senior member of staff within the School, signatures will not be supplied without the express approval of LSE Legal Advisors and our Cyber Security Team.

8. Once all the necessary approvals are in place and the data management plan has been received and approved, we'll either confirm with the researcher that they can sign the agreement or send the agreement to be signed by the Research Division.

Contact us with any queries about secure data applications.

How to access secure data

LSE Library and DTS can offer a number of options for accessing secure datasets both on and off campus. Please note that it is ultimately the decision of the data supplier and LSE to decide on an appropriate access route for the dataset, as not all options will be appropriate for all applications.

What options are there to access secure data on campus?

Some suppliers will only give access to secure data from within the LSE campus. We can offer access to an ESRC SafePod and a secure room to facilitate access to secure data from within the Library building.

Secure room

The secure room is a fully enclosed, locked, controlled access room located on the fourth floor of LSE Library.

Use of the room is granted to approved researchers by appointment only via the Library.

Contact us to enquire about using the secure room.

The secure room is available during staffed Library opening hours.

PC specs:  

PCs in the room run in a Windows environment with a suite of statistical tools for analysis. We provide these data packages offline:

  • Citris Workspace 
  • IBM SPSS
  • Ms office P
  • Nvivo 12
  • Nvivo 1.x
  • Rstudio
  • R for Windows
  • Stata 16

The PC in 4.07 can also be locked down to prevent access to the internet or for the connection of USB storage devices. This room does not have windows so to prevent external viewing of data. 

What data resources are suitable for the rooms? 

Some of the data resources we manage through the rooms are: 

  • Bureau van Djik Orbis hard drive and historical data 
  • Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) 
  • Indian National Sample Survey data 
  • DealScan 
  • Eurostat Microdata 
  • ONS Microdata 
  • UKDS Microdata

SafePod

LSE hosts an ESRC funded SafePod. A SafePod is a prefabricated setting that allows researchers to access data from key suppliers.

What options are there to access secure data remotely?

Some suppliers will allow remote access to datasets, but only from a secure server. There may also be an additional requirement for researchers to access data only from institutional laptops eg, from a laptop supplied by the DTS team at LSE.

AWS server

LSE can provide access to AWS 17 (Amazon Web Services) environment which utilises the cloud-hosted AWS infrastructure and resources and adheres to the principles of secure remote access to datasets and materials

  • The AWS environment is managed by DTS. Apply to use AWS.

  • All applications to use the AWS server will need to be cleared via Cyber Security, who'll require a copy of your data management plan as well as any data sharing agreements/licences you have been asked to sign.

  • They'll assess whether the server is appropriate for usage on a case-by-case basis.

  • The AWS server is not appropriate for all dataset applications, some data can only be accessed through the Rlab terminal server or on campus.

Securelab

The RLAB maintains a terminal server for use by the research centres CASE, CEP, CVER and STICERD.

  • It can also be used by researchers from outside the centres for access to ONS datasets (including ONS datasets via UKDS).

  • Please note that you'll need to be an ONS accredited researcher before you can access ONS datasets.

Other useful information

Undergraduate and master's students and secure data

The data team at LSE Library recognises many undergraduate and master's student need access to secure data for research projects and dissertations. We try and support such applications wherever we can. However, there are several barriers to accessing secure data that students and supervisors need to be aware of:

  • Some data suppliers have long turnaround times of ten weeks or more. This can be difficult to accommodate within the timeline of a UG or PGT dissertation.

  • Some data suppliers refuse outright to supply data to anybody below the PhD level of study.

  • Some data suppliers will only supply to researchers where they have a publication history that demonstrates experience in data analysis.

  • Some data suppliers will only supply data on a ‘public interest’ basis. In most cases this means a planned publication in an academic journal.

  • Some corporate data suppliers attempt to impose unreasonable terms and conditions that make it risky for UG/PGT students to enter into a data sharing agreement with them. For example, in the past some data suppliers have insisted that the finished copy of the dissertation be submitted to them for final approval before it is submitted to the School for marking.

  • Some suppliers charge administration fees for supplying data that are not feasible for an UG/PGT project. There can also be hidden costs eg, the costs of getting foreign language data sharing agreements translated into English.

These potential pitfalls can make planning a dissertation or research project that relies on secure data very risky. Because of this we suggest that students and supervisors get in touch with us as early as possible in the process so we can advise you about the feasibility of securing data for the study.

Access security sensitive data

If the research topic involves accessing, using or collecting security sensitive material eg, related to terrorism or violent extremism of any kind then you may need to arrange for special access methods eg, on LSE campus only or via a secure server.

We would also recommend a consultation with the Cyber Security team who can advise on the safest way to collect and analyse this type of data. 

Contact us to arrange meetings with appropriate LSE contacts.

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