Statistics Dept: Micro-level data should always be kept confidential

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 20 Oct 2019

PUTRAJAYA: The Statistics Department’s policy on micro-level data is to protect the anonymity of those interviewed for its Household Income Survey (HIS).

Citing Section 4(2) of the Statistics Act, the department pointed out that respondents’ information should always be kept confidential and not be disclosed to any party.

“This is in line with the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics which states that individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation, whether or not they refer to natural or legal persons, are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purpose.

“Conforming to the Act, the department could only disseminate aggregate data, not individual data, “the department told The Star in a statement.

Microdata, which refers to the individual, household, business or entity data of a person or company, is used for research purposes.

Aggregate data refers to aggregated microdata or the process for managing the risk of identification for any data that are disseminated in the form of summary reports and publications.

To protect data privacy, the department said it would ensure that personal information would be anonymous before its release.

The department said it believed in encouraging the use of official data by researchers in conducting research that had an impact on the development of the nation and the well-being of the people.

“In terms of data sharing with users, we always cooperate to fulfil data requests from any users without prejudice.

“However, in accordance with the provisions of Section 4 (2), guidelines for handling and supplying microdata to users are established to provide systematic guidance on the microdata management to ensure that the confidentiality of respondents’ information is upheld, ” it said.

This, the department said, was also in line with practices in Australia and Singapore.

The department’s policy was for researchers and universities to either obtain 30% of the micro-level datasets and all variables or for all its datasets at 30% variables.

“Sometimes, the 30% is negotiable and they can still come talk to us. We will see their requirements, ” it said.

On its fees, the department said it did not charge professional fees but its costs are calculated based on data processing.

The statement did not address the RM60,000 quotation sent to The Star over a request for a dataset containing information on the incomes of 24,341 Malaysian households collected in 2016.

Currently, the department has 27 MOUs – 19 of which were with universities – on the availability of its data for free.

However, the researchers in these universities would not get 100% of the micro-level data with 100% of its variables for free, as it also depends on the research and on a case by case basis.

For other researchers not attached to these universities, a minimal RM30 per hour is charged for data processing.

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