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Balancing Data Subjects’ Rights and Public Interest Research:

Examining the Interplay between UK Law, EU Human Rights Law and the GDPR

Jessica Bell, Stergios Aidinlis, Hannah Smith, Miranda Mourby, Heather Gowans, Susan E Wallace, Jane Kaye


Keywords: GDPR, Public Interest Research, Privacy

The EU General Data Protection Regulation (‘GDPR’) seeks to balance the public interest in research with privacy rights of individuals, in particular, through research exemptions and safeguards set out in Article 89. While this affords Member States limited opportunities to modify the application of the GDPR at a national level, including for data processing that is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest, it is necessary for national approaches to conform with Article 89 safeguards where appropriate. One development of interest to the research community in the UK is a statutory power for public authorities to disclose administrative data for research under the Digital Economy Act 2017 (DEA). This article uses the DEA as a case study for analysis of the GDPR provisions governing processing of data for research purposes—including de-identification—and draws on human rights norms and jurisprudence to interpret the broad requirement for ‘appropriate safeguards’ for the ‘rights and freedoms of the data subject’ under Article 89. This analysis is important for data controllers seeking to meet their obligations under the UK framework and for those in other EU Member States considering the development of similar national provisions for data processing for research purposes.
Keywords: GDPR, Public Interest Research, Privacy

All authors are part of HeLEX, Centre for Health, Law and Emerging Technologies, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, UK. Additionally, Dr Jessica Bell and Jane Kaye are researchers at HeLEX@Melbourne, Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne, Australia. For correspondence: <>. The authors gratefully acknowledge Associate Professor Mark Taylor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne for comments on drafts of this paper. We are also grateful for the assistance of Melbourne Law School Academic Research Service in formatting this paper for submission.


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