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Digital theses and ORA: Sensitive content

Animal research

If your research involved some animal work/sensitive data, please ask your supervisor to send us an email to confirm that it will be ok to make your (abstract available immediately and your) thesis file available once the embargo period ends.

Intellectual property rights

If consultation or reproduction of all or part of the thesis would put at risk confidential material or invalidate an application for a patent on a product or process described in the thesis, or restricting access to the thesis is a requirement of any agreements with an outside body or sponsor governing supply of confidential material or the disclosure of research results described in the thesis, you should apply for dispensation from consultation. Please speak to your supervisor or Research Services for advice.

Sensitive content

Sensitive content in digital theses: checks and procedures

Context

When depositing items into ORA it is crucial to take steps to ensure that sensitive information not intended for public release is not inadvertently made freely available on the open Internet. Errors could result in serious consequences for the University or third parties which could be of a legal, personal or financial nature. The following guidelines are intended to limit the possibility of an undesirable situation arising. Checks and balances at each stage of the process are described.

What is sensitive content?

Sensitive content might fall into any of the following categories:

  • Personal information: personal data (name, address, age, criminal record etc); personal medical details; information that enables the identification of an individual; photographs etc
  • Commercially sensitive information: details of new products and processes; names of companies and collaborators; content covered by non-disclosure or other agreement
  • Patentable information
  • Research using controversial processes
  • Some political, security or similar content
  • Other information which could be deemed to cause similar difficulties if made public
  • Material where copyright is held by a third party

Consent from research participants

You will need to have consent from research participants for the inclusion of their personal data in your thesis, to ensure compliance with data protection legislation and also to address any concerns about the publication of sensitive or confidential information. For particularly sensitive material, you may wish to seek consent for publication in an appendix to which access is restricted. A sample wording explaining about online deposit is available on the CUREC website to include in participant information. 

Using a separate appendix

A workable solution if your thesis includes sensitive or un-cleared copyright content is to separate that content into a separate appendix which can be embargoed enabling the rest of your thesis to be made freely available. Click here for more information

Responsibility

Stage Actions to reduce risk
Thesis/dissertation guidelines Ensure information about sensitive content and patient consent are easily available to students and supervisors and factored into training, publications (eg handbooks) and similar. Directors of Graduate Studies
Supervision Supervisors ensure students are aware at appropriate points in their programme. Be aware of potentially problematic content when reading drafts and advise student. Supervisor/tutor
Writing thesis Remain aware of and note any content being included in the work to which access should be restricted. Author
Transfer of status Ensure student is fully briefed on types of sensitive content, patient consent and their responsibilities as author. Check with the student whether there is any or likely to be any content which may fall into the category of sensitive content. Supervisor/tutor
Deposit in ORA Check with supervisor and/or Research Services if unsure about the sensitive nature of any content in your work. Indicate that access should be restricted to all or part of the content using the ORA embargo functionality. Apply for the necessary dispensation from consultation. Indicate a date on which the content can be released if appropriate. Author/depositor
ORA Review Follow depositor instructions regarding embargo. Run quick check of content to identify any obviously potentially problematic content. If necessary contact author and/or supervisor. ORA staff
Post-deposit Retain a robust take down policy and procedure and take prompt action if necessary. ORA staff

Ethics committee contacts

Medical Sciences Inter-Divisional Research Ethics Committee (MS IDREC) - ethics@medsci.ox.ac.uk

Social Sciences and Humanities Inter-Divisional Research Ethics Committee (SSH IDREC) - ethics@socsci.ox.ac.uk

Oxford Tropical Research Ethics Committee (OxTREC) - oxtrec@admin.ox.ac.uk

Departmental Research Ethics Committees (DRECs)

Central University Research Ethics Committee (CUREC) - curec@admin.ox.ac.uk