Restricted-use Data

Data are typically classified as restricted-use if they contain particularly sensitive confidential information about the participants. This might include reports of sexual behavior, criminal history, drug use, mental health history, HIV status, information collected from minors, or other materials that warrant extra discretion.

DSDR and its data providers take the confidentiality of these subjects especially seriously. Data held by DSDR never contain direct identifiers, but there is still a risk that participants in studies with sensitive information could be identified indirectly. Using a handful of a known participant's demographic characteristics, a person could narrow down the sample significantly and infer which responses belong to the subject they seek. This is called deductive disclosure risk. One way to counteract this risk is by restricting access to the data, requiring an application to access the data, and carefully reviewing each application to ensure that the data are being used strictly for research purposes.

Identifying Studies with Restricted-use Data

As shown below, data restrictions are included in two areas on the study home page:

  1. The Access Notes section includes information on the restriction and a link to apply online for access to the restricted-use data. Selecting this link results in a pop-up box with information on the available access options.
  2. The Dataset(s) section indicates which particular dataset(s) are restricted-use.
image highlighting where to see if a data is restricted

View studies with restricted-use data in the DSDR archive

Applying for Access to Restricted-Use Data

DSDR uses two methods to provide access to restricted-use data:

  1. Secure dissemination: Data are encrypted and delivered via download to a researcher. The researcher must destroy any copies of the data at the completion of the project.
  2. Virtual Data Enclave (VDE): Data remain on the ICPSR file servers and are accessed and analyzed by the researcher virtually. DSDR staff review output for disclosure risk prior to transferring results to the researcher. The VDE facilitates collaboration by allowing members of the project team to connect to the server from their separate, approved locations.

Currently, a fee is required to process the application for and provide access to a small number of restricted-use data sets. In the event a fee is required, DSDR staff will provide information on the amount and instructions for payment.

The Secure Dissemination Application Process

The VDE Application Process

Restricted-use Data FAQs