For decades, population researchers have been using information collected by large, government-funded surveys such as the National Survey of Family Growth or the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth, a research strategy known as secondary data analysis. Recently, many of the large surveys have been collecting especially sensitive information such as the precise geographic location of each participant, whether he or she has sexually-transmitted infections, and even DNA samples. The new data increase the risk that a determined analyst could try to identify a respondent and disclose sensitive information. In order to minimize that risk, organizations are releasing these data for research as restricted-use data files, which require that secondary data analysts take special precautions to prevent misuse of the data. Restricted-use data is highly desirable for research, and the number of population researchers who wish to use it has been growing rapidly. However, the process of obtaining permission to use restricted-use data and the constraints that are imposed on the analyst can be quite daunting. For this reason, the Hopkins Population Center (HPC) has developed procedures to assist its faculty research associates with applications for, storage of, and access to restricted-use secondary data.
Developing procedures that make central management of restricted-use licrensing agreements possible is not an easy task. Therefore, our restricted data coordinator, Jennifer Darragh, has drafted an essay that outlines the challenges and triumphs the HPC has faced in this endeavor to inform other centers who are attempting to develop restricted data services.