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The research exemption

The ‘research exemption’ in s33 provides for exemptions from various sections of the DPA.

The exemption applies where data is processed for research purposes (which includes statistical and historical purposes) and where the following conditions are met:

  • The data are not processed to support measures or decisions relating to particular individuals; and
  • The data are not processed in such a way that substantial damage or substantial distress is, or is likely to be, caused to any data subject.

The effect of the exemption is:

  • For the purposes of the second data protection principle, the further processing of personal data for research purposes in compliance with the relevant conditions is not to be regarded as incompatible with the purposes for which the data was obtained.
  • Personal data may be kept indefinitely (despite the facts that the fifth data protection principle states that personal data should be kept for no longer than is necessary). However the exemption cannot be used to justify the retention of records for longer than would normally be the case simply because the records might be used for research in the future. The exemption may only be used, in other words, if research is actually being carried out or there is a firm intention to use the records for that purpose.
  • Subject access does not have to be given provided that the results of the research are not made available in a form that identifies that data subject.

Remember that even where the exemption applies, the data controller will still need to comply with the rest of the DPA.

For more information on the research exemption please see the ICO Technical Guidance: Use and Disclosure Of Health Data: Guidance on the Application of the Data Protection Act 1998 at p12.