Data anonymisation: legal, ethical, and strategic considerations

Alexandra Stam and Brian Kleiner

FORS Guide Nº 11



How to cite :

Stam, A., & Kleiner, B. (2020). Data anonymization: legal, ethical, and strategic considerations. FORS Guide No. 11, Version 1.1 (last update January 2022) Lausanne: Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences FORS. doi:10.24449/FG-2020-00011

Keywords :

anonymization, pseudonymization, data protection, research ethics

Abstract :

Drawing on the Swiss context, this Guide illustrates key considerations in crafting a coherent anonymization strategy that is compliant with legal requirements and ethical norms. It shows how to strike the right balance between anonymization and other data protection measures, namely informed consent and access control, given the nature of a project’s data and their anticipated use.

Recommendations for researchers:
  • Plan your anonymization strategy at the beginning of your project. Waiting until the end may severely limit your possibilities.
  • Even if exhaustive anonymization is foreseen, we recommend that researchers always ask for informed consent. The consent form should be transparent and explain what will be done with the data.
  • Always consider anonymisation in relation to risk of harm and legal requirements, but also in relation to other forms of protection to respondents, such as informed consent and access controls. This will allow you to optimise data openness, utility, and protection.

© the authors 2020. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) Creative Commons License