The University of St Andrews has been granted £1.5 million from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to create and manage a new Micro Safe Settings Network (MSSN) to support, strengthen and widen remote access to sensitive data held by data centres across the UK.

Typically, research access to sensitive data can only take place in tightly controlled safe settings where the privacy of the data subjects can be assured. These type of research settings can be expensive to build and maintain and so only exist in a few places across the UK.

The establishment of the MSSN will help overcome these issues by providing a standardised network of micro safe settings (SafePods™) that will provide researchers with dedicated space to remotely access project data. As a result, it is anticipated that there will be a substantial increase in the amount of public benefit research being carried out in the future.

SafePods have been designed and developed at the University of St Andrews. They provide the security and safety features that exist in a traditional safe setting, but are also compact enough in size for placement into organisations where space may be at a premium.

The MSSN will work closely with the Administrative Data Research Network to provide researchers with remote access to their data. The UK Data Service has agreed in principle that the majority of their Secure Lab data holdings will be remotely available to researchers through a SafePod. The MSSN will also engage with other key data centres and government departments across the UK to offer and support remote access to their sensitive data.

Darren Lightfoot, MSSN Manager at the University of St Andrews, said: “I am delighted to be involved in the creation and management of both the SafePods and the MSSN, which will help to support remote access to sensitive data for research purposes across the UK. I am looking forward to working with many organisations to implement this new ESRC funded initiative.”

Professor Chris Dibben, Director of the MSSN, said: “The Micro Safe Settings Network will enable safe research from many more places across the UK. This will enable a far greater amount of public benefit research to be carried out, particularly within research institutions historically disadvantaged by being distant from national safe data settings.”

Further information on the application process and the requirements needed to host a SafePod are available here.

The closing date for the initial expression of interest for a SafePod is Friday 27 October 2017.