Ethics and Legislation

Ethical conditions of work with social data

There are numerous codes of ethics and sets of standards that apply to empirical social research, e.g. following:

The main ethical requirements of data management, beyond the general requirements of the quality of scientific work, can be summarised as follows:

  • Respondents should be protected from the potential harmful effects of research even after the stage of field data collection has been concluded, in particular whenever the data are worked with, archived, made available, or made subject to secondary analysis. In general, information of an individual nature about survey participants and other personal data is confidential, and this confidentiality should be maintained. Special attention should be paid to sensitive information.
  • Respondents must be treated with respect and have the right to know the purpose and methods of utilisation of the information they provide and to decide about the ways it can be utilised. Consequently, their decisions must be respected.
  • Adequate utilisation of the information gathered in line with the purpose defined should always be ensured, not only to fructify the efforts respondents made to participate in the research study. Data gathered with public funding must be utilised as much as possible and, whenever the nature of the data allows, made available to the broader scientific community.

Personal data protection

The issues of personal data protection should be given adequate attention as early as the stage in which a research proposal is drafted. To underestimate them would not only constitute a violation of research ethics but might also restrict or completely prevent the researchers’ intentions from being fulfilled and in particular the data from being made available for secondary research. The following should be clear from the beginning:

  • Is it necessary to obtain respondents’ informed consent for personal data operations?
  • Will the data have to be anonymised?

A simple yes/no answer to these questions is insufficient; additional details are important. We need to exactly identify the phases of the research and the data life cycle in which the presence of personal information on respondents is unavoidable. Then we should plan our data management in such a way that it avoids any unnecessary operations with personal data and institutes adequate personal data protection measures where such operations cannot be avoided.

Legal regulation in European countries is on a common directive of the European Union (GDPR)


This directive applies throughout the European Union and other countries (UK, Norway...) and may be regulated by national data protection laws in individual countries. The text of the Czech law is available here:

Zákon č. 110/2019 Sb., o zpracování osobních údajů

A general rule for any research study based on the collection of information from respondents is to obtain their informed consent. The data subject must at least be informed properly and in advance about the purpose of the data processing, the scope of the personal data, the name of the processor, and the time period the consent is given for. When it comes to so-called sensitive data, in practice consent must be obtained in writing and must preferably also signed by the respondent to demonstrate the existence of consent as required. The respondent is also entitled to request further information about the data processing, and if the reasons for which consent was obtained cease to exist, the data processor must stop processing, i.e. must liquidate the data.

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