Restricted data and confidentiality

Data providers might restrict access to information because it is confidential, unpublished, or not yet finalised. Typically, this is a mechanism to prevent inappropriate use of the data, unauthorised commercial exploitation, or sensitivity to possible imperfections in the data. Sometimes, however, the organisation simply does not have the resources required to compile and check the data. It is advisable, where possible, to cooperate with data providers to find solutions to overcome their concerns by:

• explaining the intended use of the data,

• agreeing, in writing, to the level at which it will be made public,

• identifying the increased accuracy that can be gained through its use in inventories,

• offering cooperation to derive a mutually acceptable data sets,

• and/or giving credit/acknowledgement in the inventory to the data provided.

The protection of confidentiality is one of the fundamental principles of a national statistical agency (NSA2 - see: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/methods/statorg/). NSAs are committed to safeguarding information that plainly reveals the operations, belongings, attitudes or any other characteristics of individual respondents. If respondents are not convinced that the information they provide to the NSA is absolutely confidential, the quality of the information collected may suffer. Detailed individual data must therefore be treated and aggregated so as to draw out the information that is important to the user, without disclosing individual data. This is more likely to be an issue for business statistics, especially where a few companies dominate the sector, than for other data.

Sometimes, depending on the size and structure of the original sample, raw data can be aggregated in a way that protects confidentiality and yet produces useful information for emission inventory purposes. If, however, there is a need to preserve confidentiality the NSA, or the body that originally collected the data, are normally the only ones that can carry out this additional treatment of the raw data.

Some countries have special arrangements to mask data (i.e., make data anonymous with respect to companies or facilities) to allow researchers access. Inventory compilers may investigate the possibility of making such arrangements. However, as this reprocessing will be required regularly (annually if possible), a better solution would probably be for NSAs to incorporate this into their own work programmes. While this will require an initial investment in data processing, it will probably be quicker and less expensive in the long run. Once the

2 Any main national official data collection organisation is referred to here as national statistical agency.

reprocessing system is set up it can be reused every time the survey is repeated, with low marginal costs. An added advantage is that the information will then be in the public domain so that others can validate the figures reported in the inventories.

Many agencies collect ancillary data during operations for other purposes, such as registration of businesses or vehicles, collection of taxes, granting of licences, allocation of grants and subsidies. Such information is usually also covered by confidentiality clauses. In general, such clauses foresee the use of the data for statistical purposes, and NSAs have the right of access to such data. Often these administrative data form the basis for sample stratification and selection and NSAs will have experience in handling them, perhaps even developing specialist software that allows the required information to be drawn out without breaching the confidentiality rules.

For all these reasons, when existing data need to be reprocessed, it is strongly recommended to work together with NSAs or the statistical service of the relevant ministry, not only to protect confidentiality, but also for cost savings.

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