Law, Individual, Community: Edinburgh Postgraduate Law Conference

Leslie Stevens (Speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in conference


'Accounting for the Public Interest in Social Sciences and Humanities Research under the Data Protection Act 1998' Abstract: When the personal data of individuals is used in the course of social sciences and humanities research undertaken in the UK, the use of such data must comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). In particular, the use must be 'lawful' as provided for under the DPA. Because of the limited ways use of personal data may be determined 'lawful' under the DPA, researchers in the social sciences and humanities face particular difficulties in legitimising research under this legislation. When consent is unattainable for any number of reasons, research will often require legitimisation as being undertaken in the 'public interest' or for the 'legitimate interests' of the data controller (i.e. the researcher and/or research producing institution such as a university). This paper will focus on the ways in which social sciences and humanities research could be legitimated as in the 'public interest' under Schedule 2, para 5(d) of the DPA. This will lead into an investigation of whether the conditions to lawful processing reflect a bias in favour of biomedical research. The 'public interest' in bio-medical research can be persuasively defended in the tangible benefits such research can achieve for society (e.g. a life saving treatment). Social sciences and humanities research, resulting in far more varied and elusive outcomes, is disadvantaged by the current legal conceptualisation of the 'public interest' that is often understood in terms such as 'pressing social need' and 'tangible benefits' to society. If the 'public interest' as it applies to research in the UK, and specifically under the DPA, is reconceptualised to account for a wider breadth of individual and community interests, social sciences and humanities research can be carried out under more fair and predictable legal conditions.
Period3 Dec 2013
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburgh, United Kingdom