Secure Data Service ramping up

Article dated: 15 December 2010

Data services are at an important crossroad. As data technology grows ever more sophisticated, researchers are exploring new frontiers in data harvesting, merging, mashing, mining and mapping in a shared technological development environment. SDS logo

The possibilities for truly innovative cross-disciplinary science are expanding. At the same time, concerns about personal data protection are rising to the level of public debate. New government standards for statistical disclosure control have effectively removed significant detail in social data collections previously released under a standard end user licence.

This combination presents a fundamental conundrum for both social science researchers and policy makers: How to continue harnessing the power of detail-rich data in a way that preserves and protects the privacy of individuals?

This is exactly the challenge that the Secure Data Service (SDS) aims to address. Established with ESRC funding and developed during an extended pilot phase, the service is now poised to move to a full service in mid-2011.


At heart, the SDS is built on a security philosophy that encompasses both data technology and individual behaviour. The SDS system – open only to ONS-approved and ESRC-accredited researchers – uses a super-secure Citrix server, used by the banking and military sectors. In addition, the Archive has been certified for its secure data handling procedures under the ISO 27001 standard.

Researchers must apply for SDS membership, which includes endorsing a code of conduct that puts data security at the centre of all research activities.

They will be supported with explicit training on data security, data handling and statistical disclosure control. And to reduce the motivation to move data to a familiar desktop for analysis, they will be able to access SDS data at their convenience from their own institution using secure remote technology.

These proactive measures are backed with meaningful penalties for any breaches.

The SDS team are now collaborating with owners of detailed business and government data to acquire and process data collections. Meanwhile, training sessions will begin in early 2011 and a public-facing website is set to launch shortly after.