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Maximising the Value of Data - Linking and Integrating Data Holdings

The increasingly widespread use of personal and other unique identification numbers in the administration of government schemes, coupled with vastly improved computing power, has opened up the potential for enhanced statistical analysis through linking and integrating data holdings from various sources. Such data matching has the potential to reduce the response burden for both persons and business. However since data matching could be undertaken for other non-statistical reasons, some of which could infringe on the privacy of individuals, it is a practice that is closely monitored and regulated in the context of data protection regimes.

The use, including matching, of data from administrative sources for bona fide statistical purposes is acceptable under data protection legislation provided there are adequate safeguards in place to prevent the unlawful disclosure of information on individuals or enterprises. The statistical confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act, 1993 and corresponding provisions under EU statistical law, provide a comprehensive legislative framework under which such safeguards are applied within the CSO. Since the Act also grants access for statistical purposes (subject to some specific exceptions) by the CSO to administrative data held by public authorities, the Office is uniquely placed to integrate data holdings from a wide range of sources.

The 2003 National Statistics Board report Developing Irish Social and Equality Statistics to meet Policy Needs made a compelling case for the more widespread use, with a particular focus on linking and integration, of data from administrative sources. In view of the sensitivity of the issue, the Government in accepting the report's recommendations asked the CSO to set out formally how the integration of administrative data holdings, and the new statistics generated by data integration, can be safely employed without data protection problems. The CSO was also requested to refer its approach to the Data Protection Commissioner for confirmation that the data protection rights of individuals were not undermined.

As a response to the request from Government, the CSO publicly commits itself to the Protocol (or Code of Practice) set out in Annex 1. This Protocol has been discussed and agreed with the National Statistics Board, (links to National Statistics Board website) and approved by the Data Protection Commissioner (links to Data Protection Commissioner website).