The World Health Organization recommends the following measures to ensure the ethical and secure use of data:

  1. Use anonymization and other tools as appropriate.
  2. Comply with informed consent agreements where such consent is needed and respect assurances about ways in which the data (anonymized or otherwise) would be used, shared, stored or protected.
  3. Adopt appropriate security measures to foster public trust.
  4. Any platforms established to share data should have an explicit ethical framework governing data collection and use.

In addition, consider the following:

  1. Ensure adequate de-identification of data within health data management activities. Consult relevant guidance to determine which tool is most appropriate for de-identification of the type of data you’re handling. When using digital (communication) technologies in healthcare, data protection is paramount. Determine which tools are used by healthcare professionals and only use tools that allow for the appropriate level of encryption.
  2. Clearly define the purpose of data management, measures for data minimisation and limitation of data retention, and the specific roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders throughout the data management process. This should include a clear overview of which parties are responsible for safeguarding data at different stages.
  3. When sharing data with specific recipients, be transparent regarding the appropriate use of the data, and make sure this is compatible with the original purpose for which the data was collected.
  4. Data can be vulnerable to interception at points of transfer between different organizations. Additionally, data may be misused intentionally or unintentionally after the transfer. Select the right method and tool for transfer, and to stipulate the licence or terms under which data may be used in a clear manner (see “What are the different licenses available for data sharing and what do they cover?” for more information on this point).

Following these best practices will help ensure responsible data management in the COVID-19 response.