Regulating Data Re-Use for Research: The Challenges of Innovation and Incipient Social Norms

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


Keen to capitalise on advancements in data collection, linkage, and analysis, governments are increasingly opening the data they collect through their interactions with citizens to researchers. This re-use of data is justified as in the ‘public interest’ because it can provide unique insights into socio-economic challenges, giving decision makers a more robust evidence base for policies. Despite this reasoning, negative societal responses to certain lawful governmental data sharing initiatives suggest legal compliance is insufficient to achieve societal acceptance. Notwithstanding the importance of societal expectations, few empirical studies have explored societal attitudes towards the re-use of administrative data in social research. This chapter explores the presence and potential drivers of divergences between the law and individuals’ constructions of acceptable data processing. Drawing on the EU Data Protection Directive and data collected from two focus groups convened for this study, it proposes that whilst the legal approach to data processing is unaltered by innovations in data processing, this novelty had implications for participants’ views. The uncertainty resulting from innovative data processing and disillusionment with its supposed benefits prompted desires for greater control over personal data and a questioning of the ‘public interest’ in research. Incipient social norms challenge traditional conceptions of the law’s legitimacy that are rooted in its ability to reflect such norms. They potentially wield significant power over the implementation of innovative data processing activities prompting a need to explore mechanisms that can prevent undue restrictions to individuals’ privacy interests or the public interest in research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRegulating New Technologies in Uncertain Times
EditorsLeonie Reins
Place of PublicationBerlin
ISBN (Electronic)978-94-6265-279-8
ISBN (Print)978-94-6265-278-1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameInformation Technology and Law Series
ISSN (Print)1570-2782
ISSN (Electronic)2215-1966


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