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Sensitive subjects

Sensitive subjects need to be treated with tact and strict confidentiality by every person involved in the research project. For example if a person is being recruited for tax evasion they will not want to give their real name or sign for their incentive. If a subject is of a personal nature participants may only want to be interviewed in a one-to-one situation. 

You must ensure that assurances of confidentiality and anonymity are upheld, especially concerning the collection of sensitive data. Participants must be given the opportunity to withdraw from the project at any point.

Within the provisions of the Data Protection Act, “special category data" (sometimes called sensitive personal data) means personal data consisting of information about:

  • Racial or ethnic origin
  • Biometric data and genetic data
  • Political opinions
  • Religious beliefs or other beliefs of a similar nature
  • Membership of a trade union
  • Physical or mental health or condition
  • Sexual life
  • The commission or alleged commission of any offence
  • Any proceedings for any offence committed or alleged to have been committed, the disposal of such proceedings or the sentence of any court in such proceedings

Other data or information however can be considered sensitive even if it is not defined as such within the Data Protection Act, most notably financial data, and so you need to always be considerate about what you are collecting and why and ensuring that you take appropriate steps to reassure participants as and when required.