1. Broad description
These are the arrangements for Statistics Sweden's release of confidential microdata (licensed microdata files) to approved users for statistical and research purposes.
2. Why is it good practice?
The arrangements ensure that the release of confidential data are in accordance with the legislation concerning confidentiality and protection of individual's privacy. The legislation, decided by parliament, provides the limits for release of data, e.g. research purposes, and legally underpins and constitutes administrative and technical safeguards.
3. Target audience
Statistics Sweden mainly provides access to microdata to public authorities and people or organizations performing scientific research (universities and research institutions). Statistics Sweden also provides access to microdata to other authorities and municipalities producing statistics.
4. Detailed description
According to the main principle, confidential data may be released to a third party only for the purpose of statistics production, statistical analyses and research. The legislation is outlined in Part 5.
Statistics Sweden provides access to data which do not allow direct or indirect identification of individuals or of other data subjects like enterprises. This means in practice anonymous data or data without name, address and identification number. Both the anonymous and the de-identified data are in principle only available to the researcher for a specified period, for a specified project and for access by specified staff of an institution.
In addition to laws and regulations on data confidentiality, Statistics Sweden follows a screening procedure requiring a written application from the researcher. In the application the researcher is required to describe the project, variables and periods during which data are used in the research, and also specify the people taking part in the project. If the project involves processing of sensitive personal data the researcher is required to add the approval of a research committee.
Heads of Statistics Sweden's departments are the only ones who can decide on the release of confidential data. Furthermore, the Director General shall always decide on matters that are of fundamental importance. An advisory committee has been established to provide advice in difficult cases or matters of principle.
When microdata are released to a researcher at a private institute or organization, Statistics Sweden imposes legal restrictions limiting the researcher's right to pass on or use the information. If data are released to a researcher in another authority (e.g. a university), data will also be confidential at the authority receiving data, according to the Swedish Secrecy Act. In addition, researchers at other authorities normally sign a general confidentiality statement when receiving the data.
When microdata are released, it is common that a pseudo-identifier replaces the identification number. If the user needs annual series of microdata information for the same individuals, the pseudo-identifier may be connected with the identification number, and the combination is to be stored by Statistics Sweden. The possibility of having new information added by storing the combination of pseudo-identifier and identification number is restricted to research projects and for statistical purposes.
The main method of giving access to microdata for research has been to deliver the data to the user by sending a micro disc by post. The data and the metadata are sent separately.
However, since 2005 it has been possible for researchers to get access to microdata online (remote access). This allows researchers to have online access to specific servers at Statistics Sweden. However, all data processing will be carried out on the server at Statistics Sweden and no downloads are allowed. The results are frequently sent by e-mail to the researcher in the form of tables. The system is similar to the remote access system of Statistics Denmark. The Danish system is further described in the case study from Denmark.
Supply of microdata is not covered by grants provided in the state budget for production of statistics. Consequently, the costs involved in supplying microdata are to be paid by the customers. The principle is that full costs should be reflected in providing the data, i.e. cost recovery. The costs involved are to cover not only direct labour costs, but also overhead such as rental of the premises, office costs, staff costs, EDP costs, marketing costs, development costs and a proportion of the joint costs of the statistical institutes for management and administration.
5. Supporting legislation
According to the Swedish Secrecy Act, any information concerning personal or economical circumstances of private subjects shall be confidential if it is managed within an authority responsible for producing statistics. However, information needed for statistics or research purposes and information which is not directly related to the private subject may be disclosed, if it is evident that the information can be disclosed without the person whom the information concerns suffering loss or other harm.
The obligation of confidentiality will - according to the law or by imposition of a duty of non-disclosure - also apply to the recipient of the data. Breach of confidentiality restrictions is punishable.
However, it is not possible to impose restrictions when data are released to other authorities. It is therefore also important for Statistics Sweden to take into consideration if data will be confidential according to the Swedish Secrecy Act at the authority receiving data.
The Statistics Act regulates the use of statistical information. According to this act, data collected for statistical purposes in accordance with any prescribed obligation to provide information, or which is given voluntarily, may in principle only be used for the production of statistics. From this principle there are exceptions that make it possible to provide access to data for research purposes and public planning. However, a condition for the use for research is that there should be no incompatibility between the purpose of such processing and the purpose for which the data was collected. The processing of data, which includes release of data, must also be in accordance with the regulation concerning the protection of the individual's privacy.
A scientific project involving processing of sensitive personal data without consent is subject to notification to, and approval by, a research committee before such processing can commence. This applies to all surveys, whether conducted by a public administration, individuals or enterprises. If the committee approves the processing, personal data may be released and used in research projects unless otherwise provided by the rules on confidentiality. This means that the statistical office may take other issues into consideration even if the research committee has approved the processing of data.
The arrangements are understandable by all parties, and transparent.
Researchers sometimes point out that the handling of their requests takes too much time and take the view that Statistics Sweden is too restrictive in releasing microdata.
The framework mainly depends on public confidence in research institutions and researchers. When microdata are released outside Statistics Sweden it is not possible for staff to control the use of the data. The Swedish Data Inspection Agency may observe illegal use of NSO data on their inspections at the institution.
The Official Statistics of Sweden - Annual Report 2004. This report includes relevant Swedish legislation.
30 Aug 2013