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Social Science Data Services: Use restricted data

This is the Social Science Data Services site which provides/pulls together guidance on finding statistics and data in the social sciences.

What is restricted data?

Data archives restrict access to certain data sets and variables in order to ensure confidentiality for study participants. Archives are concerned about respondent confidentiality with regard to either:

  • direct identifiers: e.g., name or social security number
  • indirect identifiers, items that could be used in conjunction with publicly-available information to identify individual respondents: e.g., detailed geographic information, occupation, or education

Therefore, data archives sometimes make data files available in one or more of the following categories:

  • Public use data: data items which could be used to identify participants are typically removed, masked, or collapsed
  • Restricted data: given that removal of sensitive variables may prevent certain kinds of analysis of the data, archives, such as ICPSR, may make a restricted version of the dataset available under strictly regulated conditions.
  • Enclave data: some data is so sensitive that research must be done on-site at the archive

Access restricted data

Many data providers will make restricted data available under a restricted data use agreement.  Applications for restricted data typically require information such as:

For more information on this process, contact Katherine McNeill, Social Science Data Services Librarian.

Access enclave data

Some data files contain sensitive information with an even greater likelihood of identifying individuals.  Such data can only be used in a data enclave, in which the researcher performs their data analysis on-site in an enclave and then takes away only research results.

Examples of data enclaves include:

1. Census Research Data Centers

Researchers can apply for access to unpublished data from the Census Bureau's economic and demographic programs at either:

2. ICPSR Data Enclave

Committee on the Use of Humans as Experimental Subjects (COUHES)

Nondisclosure agreements (NDAs)

If you are acquiring data for your research from a private company, you may be asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), which outlines the rights of all parties. Any such agreement should be MIT officials (such as those from the Office of the General Counsel or the Office of Sponsored Program), who will work with you to ensure that the agreement complies with MIT policies and retains for your rights for academic freedom, so that you are free to publish your results.

Request a nondisclosure agreement be signed by MIT.