1. Broad description
Legislation (the Statistics Act) enables Statistics Finland to release microdata to approved users for scientific research and statistical purposes. It also outlines the conditions on the release and the penalties for any breach of these conditions.
2. Why is it good practice?
The law sets out conditions under which microdata can be released. Written guidelines by Statistics Finland give further directions and assure equal treatment of all applicants. The law gives a certain leeway to Statistics Finland in assessing the threat to confidentiality that the data might impose. The principles of data release are well known by all parties (statistical authorities, data suppliers and data users). The practice does not weaken data suppliers' trust in the confidentiality of basic data. The decisions on access to microdata are made solely by the statistical authority.
3. Target audience
A licence to use data may be issued to an official body, an institution or a person in charge of research. In cases where the licence is issued to an official body or an institution, it is granted to a specific person or specific persons.
4. Detailed description
The essential principles and procedures of data release are prescribed in the Statistics Act. Statistics Finland has given more detailed guidelines on data release. These guidelines and the application form for access to microdata are publicly available on Statistics Finland's website.
An application for a licence to use data must be submitted in writing. The applicant must specify the purpose for which the statistical data are to be used, the material requested from Statistics Finland and any other data that will be used. A research plan should be appended to the application.
When considering the granting of a licence to use basic data, Statistics Finland first determines whether the data can be processed in-house to obtain the statistics requested by the applicant. In considering the application, account is also taken of the possibility that the applicant will obtain reliable results on the basis of this material. Particular attention is also paid to data protection issues.
Statistics Finland also takes into consideration any other data that the applicant may already have at their disposal. If a licence is granted and the data in the possession of Statistics Finland are to be combined with other data, this combining must take place at Statistics Finland, which shall remove all identification variables from the combined material.
Statistics Finland will not grant a licence for data covering the whole country or a whole region. Authorisation to use entire data files is generally granted only in exceptional cases, such as specific research purposes and where the material does not contain sensitive data.
Before releasing the data, all identification information is removed from the material for which a licence has been granted, or the data are made less detailed or combined with other data in order to prevent identification. The information to be removed or the manner of combination shall be indicated in the licence decision. Information on age, gender, education and occupation may be released with identification data if the applicant is entitled to collect such data by virtue of the Personal Data Act. This must be indicated in the application. An additional requirement is that the release of these data in identifiable form is considered essential to the study.
The decision to grant access to microdata is made by the Director General when data are to be released abroad. In other cases the decision is made by the director of a statistics department. The licence is granted for a limited period only. Statistics Finland has a Committee on Statistical Ethics which helps decision-makers by giving opinions on complicated data release issues and on all cases where data are to be released abroad.
Each licence is accompanied by the terms and conditions applicable to the use of the data. The data may only be used for the purpose indicated in the decision. The data shall be treated as confidential and may not be handed over to others without authorisation from Statistics Finland. No attempt must be made to identify the data subjects from the material and the data must be destroyed by the set date.
5. Supporting legislation
All statistical data are confidential irrespective of the data source. The release of confidential data is determined by the Statistics Act (Section 13).
The data obtained by a statistical authority for statistical purposes may only be released to a third party on terms laid down in the Statistics Act or in another act concerning especially the National Statistical Service or upon express consent of the subjects of the data.
Confidential data collected for statistical purposes may be released for use in scientific research or statistical surveys concerning social conditions. Such data may not be released for use in an investigation, surveillance, legal proceedings, administrative decision-making or other similar handling of a matter concerning an individual, enterprise, corporation or foundation.
Identification data may not be released. Both direct and indirect identification of personal data must be prevented. As far as other data (e.g. business data) are concerned it is sufficient to prevent direct identification. However, access to business microdata is usually granted only at the premises of Statistics Finland.
The decision to grant access to microdata is always made by the statistical authority concerned. When making the decision, data protection issues must be taken into consideration.
Violation of statistical confidentiality is a punishable offence (Section 24 of the Statistics Act). The punishment may be a fine or imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Legislation provides a clear basis for arrangements that the National Statistical Institute, data suppliers and researchers can understand.
Data obtained from administrative sources can be released without the permission of the data supplier. This makes the procedures of data release simpler and enables the use of very large data files.
Legislation ensures that the release of data collected for statistical purposes cannot be regulated by any other act than the Statistics Act. This enhances the trust of data suppliers.
Legislation prescribes severe punishments for breaches of law.
From Statistics Finland's perspective:
- Making data non-identifiable demands a great amount of work, which increases their cost to researchers.
From data users' perspective:
- Data are often regarded as expensive by researchers.
- Researchers sometimes think that there are too many restrictions to obtaining and using data.
The legislation can be found at http://tilastokeskus.fi/org/index_en.html
30 Aug 2013