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Addressing Challenges For Geospatial Data-Intensive Research Communities: Research on Unique Confidentiality Risks & Geospatial Data Sharing within a Virtual Data Enclave

Research combining a variety of intensive geographically-referenced data streams is spreading across many scientific domains, ranging from environmental science to transportation to epidemiology, and opportunities to create new multi-disciplinary and data-intensive scientific collaborations are expanding. Yet, the unique characteristics of georeferenced data present special challenges to such collaborations. These data are highly identifiable when presented in maps and other visualizations. The potential opportunities and benefits of collaboration are constrained by the need to protect the locational privacy and confidentiality of subjects in research using georeferenced data.

Funded by the National Science Foundation (BCS‐1244691), this project addresses the challenges facing geospatial data-intensive research communities through a research program on the unique confidentiality characteristics of geospatial data and their visualizations, on disclosure risks, and on the potential for sharing geospatial data within a Virtual Data Enclave (VDE).

The Association of American Geographers (AAG) and the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan, in joining together on this research project, bring significant, complementary expertise and experience to the long-standing problems of sharing geospatial data and their visualizations that have challenged researchers and created obstacles to innovation. We proposed to engage the geospatial research community in an effort to:

  1. conduct research on the unique confidential characteristics of large georeferenced data sets and on viable ways to manipulate these data and their geovisualizations to protect confidentiality and privacy;
  2. conduct research on methods and procedures to assess and reduce disclosure risks in maps and other research projects derived from locationally identifiable data;
  3. conduct research regarding the viability of sharing and archiving confidential georeferenced research data using a VDE to enable sophisticated analyses of these data under conditions that protect the privacy of research subjects; and
  4. test confidentiality methods within the geospatial VDE to reduce disclosure risk and develop standards for disclosure review.

For more information about this project, please contact the Principal Investigator, Dr. Douglas Richardson, AAG. Dr. George Alter (Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research) serves as co-PI and Dr. Mei-Po Kwan (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) serves as Senior AAG Consultant.

 This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number BCS-1244691.