The Secure Research Data Network Act would provide licensed researchers with secure access to government-held data without jeopardizing the privacy and security of Americans

May 12, 2022


Press Releases

WASHINGTON DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), John Boozman (R-AR), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced legislation to improve government services and to unlock new research by securely sharing data between federal agencies – without sacrificing security or privacy. the Research Data Secure Network Act would create a free, open-source software data platform to provide government-approved researchers with secure access without compromising the privacy of Americans.

“Many federal agencies hold critical data that could improve government services for millions of Americans. However, researchers and agencies are prevented from sharing data due to privacy concerns,” portman said. “Government can and should allow legitimate use of data while ensuring secure encryption. The Research Data Secure Network Act would do just that – allowing agencies to communicate encrypted data with each other and with approved researchers, while protecting the raw data from theft or misuse. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this valuable legislation through Congress.

“Sharing government data with approved researchers and protecting American privacy are not mutually exclusive,” wyden said. “My Secure Research Data Network Act will allow federal agencies to share secure data with approved researchers using zero-trust encryption technology while protecting the raw data from theft or misuse. Evidence that can save lives and increase equitable access to critical assistance programs should be made available to researchers dedicated to solving our nation’s most pressing policy issues.

“Lack of full access to data prevents researchers from assembling key findings that can help policymakers address issues, including those faced by our country’s veterans who depend on multiple government agencies for records. and services. We owe it to them and all Americans to simplify the process and provide safe opportunities to understand and interpret information across all platforms. I am excited to be working in a bipartisan way on this solution which will lead to better results,” said Boozman.

The federal government holds vast amounts of useful data that could improve the lives of Americans by answering pressing policy questions, from understanding gaps in veterans’ access to SNAP and WIC programs, to using data on education and employment to better target federal workforce development and assistance programs. . Unfortunately, the data held by government agencies is siloed, blocking research that could support smart, evidence-based policymaking. In its 2017 report, the US Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking reported that 87% of agencies surveyed had difficulty accessing the data they needed because it is often held by other agencies or in a form that cannot be easily parsed. In response to this concern, the Commission recommended the creation of pilots to create secure ways to share data between agencies. This bill would create a secure research data network to do just that.

At the same time, a centralized data asset containing tons of inter-agency linked data is an attractive target for hackers and foreign adversaries. To facilitate the legitimate use of data while minimizing cyber risk, this bill requires the use of zero-trust encryption technology such as Secure Multiparty Computation (SMPC), which allows authorized researchers to calculate statistics based on encrypted data while protecting the raw data against theft or misuse. Experts agree that the SMPC technology, which was developed with the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is the best tool for this type of task – for example, the Boston Women’s Workforce Council has used SMPC for the past six years to study the gender wage gap by analyzing wage data from over 250 employers, without that data ever needing to leave each company’s servers. By requiring the use of privacy-protecting technology, the Research Data Secure Network Act would allow Americans to benefit from smart, evidence-based policy decisions without compromising their privacy.

The legislation is endorsed by: Data Coalition, Consortium of Social Science Associations, Bipartisan Policy Research Center, MPC Alliance, Demand Progress, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Student Veterans for America, Axciom, Bosch, Dr. Mayank Varia (Boston University) , Dr Amy O’Hara (Georgetown Massive Data Institute), Dr Rafail Ostrovsky (University of California, Los Angeles), Dr Seny Kamara (Brown University), Dr Nigel Smart (University of Leuven, Belgium), Dr Jonathan Katz (University of Maryland).

A one-page summary of the bill is here. A section-by-section summary is here. The full text is here.

the Research Data Secure Network Act would like to:

  • Authorize a three-year pilot project (extendable for two years) of a Secure Research Data Network (SRDN).
  • Require that SRDN, which will be hosted within the NSF, develop, distribute and operate a free, open-source software data platform to provide licensed researchers with secure access to government-held data without risking privacy and security Americans.
  • Require the use of secure multiparty computing or other equivalent privacy techniques to protect data used for SRDN projects.
  • Establish a data quality service and training teams in the SRDN, which, at no cost to agencies, will help agencies prepare their data and facilitate agency participation.
  • Establish an SRDN Advisory Board, which will evaluate proposed research projects, with input from the public, before providing researchers with access to the SRDN platform.
  • Require GAO to evaluate the SRDN pilot at its conclusion and the potential use of the SRDN platform to meet other government needs