Ethical issues in research using datasets of illicit origin

Thomas, Daniel R. and Pastrana, Sergio and Hutchings, Alice and Clayton, Richard and Beresford, Alastair R. (2017) Ethical issues in research using datasets of illicit origin. In: IMC '17 Proceedings of the Internet Measurement Conference. Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), New York, NY, pp. 445-462. ISBN 9781450351188

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    Abstract

    We evaluate the use of data obtained by illicit means against a broad set of ethical and legal issues. Our analysis covers both the direct collection, and secondary uses of, data obtained via illicit means such as exploiting a vulnerability, or unauthorized disclosure. We extract ethical principles from existing advice and guidance and analyse how they have been applied within more than 20 recent peer reviewed papers that deal with illicitly obtained datasets. We find that existing advice and guidance does not address all of the problems that researchers have faced and explain how the papers tackle ethical issues inconsistently, and sometimes not at all. Our analysis reveals not only a lack of application of safeguards but also that legitimate ethical justifications for research are being overlooked. In many cases positive benefits, as well as potential harms, remain entirely unidentified. Few papers record explicit Research Ethics Board (REB) approval for the activity that is described and the justifications given for exemption suggest deficiencies in the REB process.