The 5 Safes of secure access to confidential data

17 - 18 September 2015
Rooms 4 and 5, Manchester Meeting Place, University of Manchester

Why do we need a safe environment and procedures to access sensitive data for research? Confidential data, deemed ‘personal’, are generally prevented from release by data collectors (e.g. by way of download), for fear that a data subject could be identified, and confidential information about them exposed.

The consequences of such an event are easily imagined: aside from potential legal action and financial compensation, the public will become wary of responding to surveys. Far worse, the public will no longer trust public services which they interact with, to keep their data safe. They may stop visiting their doctor, for example, because they fear their medical data will end up in the hands of an insurer or pharmaceutical company. The consequences of this would be dire. Unless a ‘controlled’ environment can guarantee that the data can be accessed safely, data is generally not made available.

This one and a half day workshop organised by the UK Data Service will introduce what is involved in setting up a secure research facility and the principles to support international best practices for providing safe and secure access to confidential and sensitive microdata via secure remote access, the 5 Safes: Safe People, Safe Projects, Safe Settings, Safe Outputs, Safe Data. Speakers include: Nathan Cunningham and James Scott (UK Data Service ); John Sanderson (Administrative Data Service); Dr Felix Ritchie (University of West of England); Dr Mark Elliot (University of Manchester and Administrative Data Service), Arne Wolters (Health Foundation); Tony Chapple, (Office for National Statistics); Mandeep Khera (HMRC) and Sarah French (Ministry of Justice).

If you are tasked with assessing methods of how to provide research access for sensitive data, then this workshop will help to answer your questions and provide guidance on appropriate solutions.

The workshop will cover:

  • Safe People - we’ll introduce the concept of an ‘Accredited Researcher’
  • Safe Projects - what can be considered a ‘safe’ project
  • Safe Settings - we’ll draw on the experience of the UK Data Archive in implementing and maintaining an Information Security Management System and what it means to be a ‘secure setting’ and we’ll explain the differences between ‘Remote Access’, ‘Onsite Access’, and ‘Job Submission’ systems
  • Safe Data - what data can we provide to researchers in a secure facility? We will apply our experience to emerging forms of data, particularly administrative sources, and how we can meet the challenges presented by Big Data for maintaining confidentiality
  • Safe Outputs - we’ll share our experience of output-based statistical disclosure control

We will also hold smaller ‘break-out’ sessions where you can interact with experienced service staff from UK Data Service, HMRC, ONS, MoJ and ADRN to allow opportunity to raise any questions specific to your own work. Finally, optional 1-to-1 surgeries will be held on day 2 where you can bring any specific topics or challenges to discuss with experts.

Costs of the workshop are:

£100 - Staff - UK academic institutions and research centres, ESRC funded researchers, UK reg. charity and voluntary orgs., Staff - Public sector and Government

£150 - All other participants including commercial organisation and non-UK individuals


This workshop is aimed at UK academics, public sector and other sector professionals charged with setting up secure data services. If you wish to attend this workshop please email booking@ukdataservice.ac.uk in the first instance giving an outline of your professional research and interests. As places are limited to 25, we will be selecting participants on the basis of their professional remit. Please also indicate any specific topics or challenges you would like to bring to our optional 1-to-1 surgeries on Friday afternoon. Lunch will be provided for those staying on for surgery sessions.

Travel information< br/> Room 4/5 is located on the 3rd floor of Manchester Meeting Place on Sackville Street Campus of The University of Manchester, close to Piccadilly Station.

There are two entrances into the building which provide access to all floors. You will find the lift and building Reception at the entrance adjacent to the lower ground floor of the Barnes Wallis Building/Student Union.

The nearest postcode location is M1 3BB. We are within a 5 minute walk of Piccadilly Station for those arriving by train or tram; the multi-storey car park on Charles Street is also a short walk away for those arriving by car.


We expect to run as normal a service as possible during this COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency. Please visit our COVID-19 page for the latest information.