1. Broad description
The Statistics Law 332/1989 allowed for the first time the Italian national statistical institute (ISTAT) to release microdata to external users. these are essentially data from social surveys where protection is chosen according to a statistical model; the complete list is on the Internet at www.istat.it/servizi/infodati/index.html#standard. It was soon clear that this product was not able to cover all requests for access to microdata especially for research purposes. For this reason in 1999 ISTAT created the Laboratory for Analysis of Microdata (Laboratorio ADELE, an abbreviation of Analisi Dati ELEmentari), an on-site facility where researchers perform statistical analysis on confidential microdata files stemming from both social and business ISTAT surveys.
2. Why is it good practice?
Very often researchers need business microdata or social microdata with the maximum information content; therefore, restricting the detail in data (as in the released microdata file) is not a feasible solution. The restriction has to be made on the access, using administrative, legal, statistical and IT measures to avoid any breaches of confidentiality. In the Laboratory the users have access to the whole collection of validated microdata of the Institute with the maximum information content.
3. Target audience
Access to the Laboratory is allowed for research purposes only; projects are welcome from universities or research institutes or from bodies who can prove a recognized research attitude. Projects have also been accepted from ministries or national authorities who demonstrate that the proposed project has clear research intentions. Researchers from foreign universities and institutes are also allowed.
4. Detailed description
The Laboratory for Analysis of Microdata is located in Rome at the ISTAT premises; plans are in place to open new branches in regional offices of ISTAT in order to decentralise access.
A researcher or a team of researchers seeking access to one or more microdata sets must complete a form containing the following information: the institution where they work, the name of the person responsible for the research project (because, very often, research students themselves carry out the analysis of the data), description, rationale and objective of the study, data to be analysed, statistical methods chosen to analyse the data, statistical software needed, and the expected type of output to be taken away from the Laboratory.
All proposals are reviewed inside ISTAT to establish the admissibility and purpose of the request, the admissibility of the institution, the need for confidential data as opposed to available microdata products, the acceptability of the expected output with respect to confidentiality. This latter analysis is done to avoid fruitless analysis where it is known in advance that the type of output requested is far too detailed to be taken away from the Laboratory without a protection that will completely destroy the information content.
Data are provided in a safe setting: a room with PC on a network separated from the internal ISTAT one, where any input/output procedures are disabled to users. The most common statistical software is available and any other commercial statistical software brought by the user will be installed on production of a valid licence.
The users sign a contract that ties researchers to their institution and together they are responsible for maintaining confidentiality. In accordance with the Statistics Law, every research project is authorized by the President of ISTAT.
Access to the Laboratory is controlled and supervised and the final output of the research is released after checking for confidentiality by ISTAT staff. The results of the research cannot be considered official statistics.
The number of projects is increasing steadily every year; in 2005 ISTAT approved more than 30 projects with more than 100 days of work.
A complete description of the Laboratory together with the form to request access is available at www.istat.it/dati/pubbsci/documenti/Documenti/doc_2004/2004_9.pdf
5. Supporting legislation
The renewal of the legal framework on privacy protection in Italy, finalised by the adoption of the Personal Data Protection Code (Law 196/2003), led to the development of the Code of Ethics and Good Conduct for any party that is in some way involved in the processing of personal information (journalists, historians, statisticians, police, health services, etc). The Code of Ethics and Good Conduct for Public Statistics (Provvedimento del Garante no. 13, 7/2002) has the status of law (Annex A.3 of the Personal Data Protection Code) and applies to all the processing of confidential data for the purpose of statistics and research in the framework of the National Statistical System. It sets criteria for assessing the identification risk of a statistical unit, the rules to be followed when providing information to subjects not involved in the National Statistical System (Laboratory and anonymous microdata - art. 7), and when exchanging confidential microdata inside the System, security measures and so on. The Statistics Law and the Code of Ethics provide a complete framework for access to microdata inside and outside the Statistical System.
Users can study the complete microdata set (except for direct identifiers) stemming from all social-demographic and business surveys as well as censuses conducted by ISTAT. There is no limit on the type of analysis that can be carried out at the Laboratory; this allows for more in-depth analysis of phenomena being studied, especially as far as business data are concerned.
The Rome location of the Laboratory is a barrier for certain researchers; plans to add other laboratories in regional offices of ISTAT will only partly resolve this problem. The metadata and documentation are mostly provided in Italian and this represents a major problem for foreign researchers.
The Statistics Law (Legislative Decree no. 322, 6 September 1989), is available at www.istat.it/dlgs322.pdf
Personal Data Protection Code (Legislative Decree no.196, 30 June 2003) available for download at www.garanteprivacy.it/garante/document?ID=1169255
Code of Ethics and Good Conduct when processing personal data for the purposes of statistics and scientific research within the National Statistical System also at www.garanteprivacy.it/garante/document?ID=1169255, Annex A.3 pp. 130-141.
30 Aug 2013