Security Sensitive Research: Guidance
Universities play a vital role in carrying out research on issues where security sensitive material is relevant. This webpage provides information relating to the storage and circulation of security-sensitive research material and the University’s procedures for managing security sensitive research.
If circulated carelessly, security sensitive material is sometimes open to misinterpretation by the authorities, and can put researchers in danger of arrest and prosecution under, for example, counter-terrorism legislation. Procedures for independently registering and storing this material, through research ethics processes, are recommended in this guidance.
The University procedures follow the recommendations laid out in Universities UK guidance on oversight of security sensitive research materials.
Security Sensitive Research Definition
Security sensitive research can be that which:
- is commissioned by the military
- involves the acquisition of security clearances
- concerns terrorist or extreme groups e.g. animal rights
- involves IT encryption design for public bodies or business
- involves anything else which the University considers as putting researcher(s) at risk
Research Ethics and Integrity Policy
Specifics relating to security sensitive research are laid out in an accompanying framework document which lays out the minimum expectation for the management of research ethics and integrity for all research carried out at the University. Please view the University Research Ethics and Integrity Policy.
Responsibility for the ethical review and research project approval process is devolved to School Research Ethics Committee (SREC) which reports via a standing item to the School Research Committee. University Research Group (URG) are provided with a register of approved security sensitive projects, which is maintained by Research and Enterprise, at each meeting.
University Research Committee (URC) is a sub-committee of the Senate and has overall responsibility for the management of research ethics and integrity. This includes oversight of security sensitive research through URG. URG advises URC on broad strategies for ethics and integrity and monitors the University’s overall performance rather than considering individual matters such as research proposals.
Responsibility for the ethical review and research project approval process is devolved to School Research Ethics Committee (SREC) which reports via a standing item to the School Research Committee.
Research that involves accessing security sensitive materials requires ethical approval at School level as a minimum and potentially at University Research Committee level of approval where SRECs do not feel able to approve such projects without a University wide view. The material can be accessed easily and securely by researchers, but cannot be transmitted or exchanged.
URG are provided with a register of approved security sensitive projects, which is maintained by Research and Enterprise, at each meeting.
The relevant sections of legislation that relate to the storage and circulation of security sensitive material are:
- Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 as amended by sections 3 and 7 of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019
- Sections 2 and 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006
- Section 2 of the Terrorism Act 2006 as amended by sections 5(6) and 5(7) of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019
Under section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, it is an offence to collect or make a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. It is also an offence to view or otherwise access via the internet documents or records containing information which is likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism. There is a defence if the information is used for academic research purposes. Steps therefore need to be taken to ensure that individuals handling security sensitive research for legitimate purposes do so exclusively for those purposes so as not to come under suspicion of the police.
Sections 2 and 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006 outlaw the dissemination of terrorist publications, including by electronic means, and give a very wide definition of ‘terrorist publication’ and ‘statements’ that could be construed as encouraging or inducing the commission preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. Academic research is not a defence under the Terrorism Act 2006.
Declaration and evaluation processes for security sensitive research
The University has put systems and procedures in place that are aligned with the Universities UK guidance for the storage of security-sensitive research material, see Universities UK: Oversight of security-sensitive research material in UK universities.
This guidance concerns the storage and circulation of security-sensitive research material. If circulated carelessly, such material is sometimes open to misinterpretation by the authorities and can put researchers at risk of arrest and prosecution under counter-terrorism legislation.
When SRECs have approved a security sensitive project the Chairs must notify URG, Research and Enterprise and Computing and Library Services. This ensures that appropriate data storage and access facilities are formally made available to researchers and that independent oversight is established for the duration of the research project. A common form for all Schools (Appendix 7a) is utilised for notification purposes and signed off by the SREC Chair. Researchers are also required to sign a declaration (Appendix 7b) associated with acceptable use of the data store facility.
Security Sensitive Research Forms
There are two forms that need to be completed before any security-sensitive research can start:
- Notification of Approval of High Risk Security Sensitive Research Projects Form for use by School Research and Ethics Committee Chairs
- IT Declaration Form Security Sensitive for use by CLS staff
Internet user advice
What to do in the case of queries relating to security sensitive research
Chairs of SRECs should be a first, or early, point of contact for enquiries about security-sensitive material associated with a university staff or PGR student member.
A set of training slides covering the information in this webpage is available at:
For further information please contact either Tracy Turner (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Joanna Radley (email@example.com).
Last updated 20 April 2020