The Data LinkageThe process of establishing whether two or more pieces of information belong to or describe the same person, family, event, place or time period. Branch creates, updates, enhances and manages a web of links between some DOHWADepartment of Health Western Australia data collections, other approved data sources and research collections. These links are stored in a computer system that contains 'chains' where each link is associated with a record in a dataset. All links in a particular chain have been associated with the same person through the process of computer-drive probabilisticRelating to probability. In linkage, this is the measurement of the likelihood that certain pieces of information relate to the same entity. record linkage (Newcombe, 1988).
The Data Linkage Branch has developed and deployed privacy protocols described in Kelman (2001). Organisational, personal, electronic and physical measures are in place to ensure that confidentiality of information provided to the DLB is maintained.
- There is a strong professional culture among Data Linkage staff that values the protection of individual privacy;
- Linkage Officers are employed under the Public Sector Management Act (1994) and are therefore bound by its privacy and confidentiality provisions;
- Requests for new linkages must be approved by the Department of Health WA Human Research Ethics Committee (HRECHuman Research Ethics Committee. The WA Department of Health HREC was formed in 2008 to consider applications for DOHWA health data. See the DOHWA HREC website: http://www.health.wa.gov.au/healthdata/HREC/index.cfm);
- All staff and researchers sign confidentiality acknowledgements;
- Before data is provided to researchers, formal approval must be granted by the Data Custodian/s (the person who manages that dataset) for the project.
- The WA Data Linkage System can only be accessed by DLB staff who are Linkage Officers or Systems Support Officers;
- The computers on which linkage operations are performed are physically isolated in their own machine room (access restricted to Systems Support Officers only);
- Computer backups are stored with the assistance of a commercial secure storage service that has been approved by the DOHWA;
- The DLB staff involved in linkage operations are physically separated from other staff within the Branch. They are located in their own section of a restricted access floor of the DOHWA offices in East Perth;
- DLB staff involved in linkage operations only have access to demographic data, required for approved linkages.