Access to Microdata

Information as collected within surveys (either samples or census) is often needed for fine analysis and model building. This brings enormous flexibility in the use of the data and in the production of tabulated results according to users’ requests. This also allows better use and more thorough analysis of collected statistical data, increasing the benefits of the data collection, making better use of public money and consequently lowering the burden on statistical respondents. Such information is known as Microdata.

Microdata is constructed from a set of records, where each record represents a data provider’s response(s) to questions included in a particular survey. Data providers range from individual respondents, households or economic entities, depending on the type of survey being carried out. A microdata file is therefore created by coding and electronically recording each survey respondent’s responses to all relevant questions.

Despite the importance of microdata sets to satisfy the needs of researchers and the changing nature of research itself, the right to privacy and the protection of the person in the context of personal data processing is a fundamental right. Statistical confidentiality primarily aims at safeguarding privacy in the field of statistics and is a key to the necessary trust that has to be maintained between statistical bodies and respondents.

Statistical confidentiality refers to the protection of individuals’ and organisations’ information to ensure that sensitive information is not made available or disclosed to unauthorised individuals or entities. Confidential data is usually characterised by having some sensitivity and value and not being readily available from alternatives sources.

In this regard, a trade-off between risk avoidance and the need for information of society must be found. Mutual confidence ensures accurate and reliable basic information and eventually high quality statistics by means of tailored statistical tools developed for the purpose of microdata disclosure control.

At the National Statistics Office (NSO), microdata access is only granted under strict conditions to a selected number of institutions or persons accredited as Research entities or Researchers respectively. These concepts are described in detail below.

ACCREDITATION AS A 'RESEARCH ENTITY' OR 'RESEARCHER'

At the NSO, access to confidential data is only granted to Research entities or Researchers for use in Research projects. These terms are defined below:

A Research entity or Researcher is granted access to confidential data only if it/she/he is able to demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the Director General of the NSO, that it/she/he:

  1. Has the appropriate knowledge and experience necessary for handling potentially disclosive personal information;
  2. Has provided satisfactory evidence supporting the application that illustrates professionalism and technical competence to carry out the research proposal;
  3. Demonstrates a commitment to protecting and maintaining the confidentiality of the data during the creation of outputs and publications that arise during the proposal.

Under no circumstance will access to confidential data will be granted to Research Entities or Researchers whose main purpose of conducting the Research project is entirely for general information or/and if alternative data sources are available.

WHAT SHOULD I DO TO ACCESS CONFIDENTIAL DATA?

Step 1
You first need to contact NSO to explain the purpose of your statistical research and justify your need for microdata. To do so you must fill in the application form from the link and specify the characteristics of your research study as well as the type of confidential data being requested. You will need to sign a declaration form and return it to the Office either by email to research.nso@gov.mt or by post at the following address: Research and Methodology Unit, National Statistics Office, Lascaris Valletta VLT 2000.

Step2
After we receive your application form, it will be evaluated by the Statistical Disclose Control Committee at NSO.

Step3
NSO will notify you of the outcome of its decision. If access to confidential data will be refused, then the reasons will be included in a letter. If your request will be considered favourably, you will receive a formal contract agreement explaining your responsibilities for the security of that information. NSO aims to process applications to be accredited as a Research entity or Researcher as quickly as possible, usually, within three weeks of submission of the application form.

Step4
Once the formal contract agreement is agreed upon and signed by the Research Entity or Researcher and the NSO, access to confidential data will be granted subject to the terms of reference included in the application form and contract agreement. Access is normally granted for a definite period which is specified in the agreement.

 Confidential Data Application