Restricted-Use Data Management at ICPSR

The vast majority of ICPSR data holdings are public-use files with no restrictions on access beyond ICPSR's standard Terms of Use. However, in some cases ICPSR provides access for vetted researchers and sponsor-supervised students to restricted-use data versions that retain confidential or sensitive data. We do this by imposing strict legal and electronic requirements for off-site access, or on-site access in a physical data enclave.

As shown below, studies with restricted-use datasets are highlighted in red on the study home page within the Access Notes area. Restricted-use datasets are unavailable for immediate download. The Dataset(s) area displays the message "No downloadable data files available.

Researchers and their research staff must apply for access to restricted-use data and consent to a Restricted Data Use Agreement.

The following are eligible to apply for access to restricted-use data.


Researchers gain access to restricted-use data by demonstrating that they require the data for legitimate research purposes and by signing and adhering to the Restricted Data Use Agreement.

For some restricted-use data, individuals who can be an Investigator (as specified in the RDUA) are required to have a PhD or other terminal degree and hold a faculty appointment or research position at the Institution that will be party to the RDUA.

For some restricted-use data, access is limited to researchers employed by an organization possessing a current NIH Multiple Project Assurances (MPA) Certification Number (typically research-oriented universities). Access for individuals employed by organizations that do not have an MPA Certification Number may be obtained by providing additional information as requested in the application.


For some restricted-use data, students may gain access to the restricted-use data under the supervision of a sponsor (e.g., a faculty advisor) who will sign the Restricted Data Use Agreement instead of the student. The student signs the Supplemental Agreement with Research Staff. The sponsor and institution ensure the student meets all conditions of the agreement during the period of access to the restricted-use data.

Multiple Institutions

A separate request and Restricted Data Use Agreement must be completed for each institution whose researchers will access the restricted-use data. This includes outside firms retained for services (such as programming). The Investigator for each request should include in their Research Description the collaboration of other researchers at other institutions for the research project so ICPSR staff can process associated requests together.

Note: In most cases, self-employed individuals with no institutional affiliation cannot gain access to restricted data.

Information about applying for access to restricted-use data is available on the home page of each study within the Access Notes area. Researchers and their research staff must review and agree to a Restricted Data Use Agreement.

Requesters should use the Restricted Data Use Agreement linked to the restricted-use dataset via the online system.

Users must log in to the online system using an ICPSR MyData account or their Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn passwords. To access ICPSR member-only data, requesters must be affiliated with an ICPSR member institution. The study Access Notes identify ICPSR member-only data.

Elements Required for Requests for Restricted-Use Data through Secure Download or CD

The request must include all of the following:

  • Application for Restricted-Use Data. This includes information about the Investigator and the research project that requires access to the restricted-use data. The application may require the current CVs of all researchers who will be working on the project.

  • Confidential Data Security Plan. The fundamental goals of this plan are to ensure that the restricted-use data are securely stored at the institution and accessible only to the people listed in the request. For some data security plans, questions are presented in such a way for the Investigator to describe in detail how this responsibility will be met. The questions and answers combined comprise the confidential data security plan. For some data security plans, static terms are presented to which the requester must agree.

  • Restricted Data Use Agreement. This is a legal agreement between the University of Michigan and the Investigator's institution specifying the terms of the use of the restricted-use data.

  • Supplemental Agreement with Research Staff Form. This identifies every person other than the Investigator who will have access to the restricted-use data. New research staff added in the course of a project must be added to and sign this form before they can access the data.

  • Pledge of Confidentiality. The Investigator and all research staff must sign this pledge before they can access the data.

Information Requesters Will Need to Complete the Request

  • Name, department, and title of the Investigator

  • Description of the proposed research that supports need to access restricted-use data

  • Information on data formats needed and data-storage technology

  • Approval or exemption for the research project from the Institutional Review Board of the Investigator's organization (for some restricted-use data)

  • A Restricted Data Use Agreement signed by the Investigator and a legal representative from the Investigator's institution

  • Other required information as specified in the Restricted Data Use Agreement

Elements Required for Requests for Restricted-Use Data through an Enclave

Required elements and information to request access to restricted-use data through the Virtual Data Enclave (VDE) or physical enclave are forthcoming.

Approval Process

ICPSR staff oversee the approval process and will work with the requester until all required information is provided and the request can be approved.

After the application is submitted, it is reviewed by ICPSR staff. If ICPSR decides all requirements are met, applicants are sent instructions for accessing the data.

ICPSR offers three methods of restricted-use data access:

  • Secure dissemination — Data are encrypted and delivered via download to the researcher. When the request is approved, the Investigator will receive a temporary link and password to download files; alternatively in some instances, data will be sent to researchers on encrypted data CDs through the postal service, signature required. Data must be destroyed at the completion of the project.

  • Virtual Data Enclave (VDE) — Data remain on ICPSR file servers and are accessed and analyzed by the researcher virtually. Analyses may be reviewed for disclosure risk prior to transferring results to the researcher.

  • Physical enclave — The researcher must be present in person at ICPSR to analyze data. All results are reviewed for disclosure before release to the researcher.

Generally, the method of dissemination is related to the level of disclosure risk or the sensitivity of the data. The method often is determined by the funder.

Researchers depositing restricted-use data follow the same process as for depositing data for public-use access: they utilize the secure and easy-to-use Data Deposit Form.

Within the "Select Files to Deposit" section of the online form, depositors should:

  • Mark "Yes" to the question "Is there confidential information in the data?"

Learn more about ICPSR's approach to confidentiality. For additional information, see Phase 5: Preparing Data for Sharing in the ICPSR Guide to Social Science Data Preparation and Archiving, 5th Edition (PDF 2MB).

ICPSR manages:

  • Over 1,150 restricted-use datasets available for analysis

  • Approximately 20 datasets accessible only on site in the physical enclave

  • Over 2,000 "active" restricted-use data agreements in process:

    • Across 500+ institutions

    • Representing 150+ studies

    • Approximately 50 new agreements executed per month

View list of studies containing restricted data

With the exception of deposits placed in our public data-sharing service, openICPSR, ICPSR conducts a disclosure risk review of every dataset we receive to protect subject confidentiality and the identity of individual respondents.

Public use

Public-use files are those for which disclosure risk to subject identities and of confidential information is considered minimal. These data may be downloaded from the ICPSR website or the website of one of ICPSR's partner archives. Data users must agree to the ICPSR Terms of Use. Data may have been deposited as public-use by the data producers. However, if necessary, ICPSR protects respondent confidentiality by removing, masking, and/or collapsing variables in the deposited data to produce a public-use version of the dataset.

Restricted use

Restricted-use data are distributed in cases when removing potentially identifying information would significantly impair the analytic potential of the data. In other cases, data contain highly sensitive personal information and cannot be shared as a public-use file. In these cases, ICPSR provides access to a restricted-use version that retains the confidential data but requires controlled conditions for accessing them.