The draft Code of Conduct for Research - room for improvement

Donrich Thaldar

Donrich Thaldar

Donrich Thaldar is a full professor of law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, where he chairs the Health Law & Ethics Research Interest Group. He is currently principal investigator of the DS-I Africa Law project.

The burgeoning landscape of research, particularly in genomics, calls for the careful balancing of the rights of data subjects with scientific imperatives. South Africa is rising to the challenge, with the development of a Code of Conduct for Research in terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (POPIA) — currently in draft form.

The draft Code of Conduct for Research is a welcome development, but there is room for improvement. My research group identified three broad areas where improvement is needed, considered potential solutions, and authored an article on each of these areas: First, the way that the draft Code describes core concepts in POPIA requires refinement. Second, in line with the global trend towards open science, there are significant benefits to an open access genomics database of South Africans. The draft Code should provide a clear roadmap for open access genomics projects. By doing so, it will not only foster innovation but also align the South African research environment with global best practices. Third, the need to strengthen the Code of Conduct also emerges from the pivotal role that research should play in the South African economy. Research is not (merely) a purpose in itself, but a fundamental contributor to the South African economy. Because research data — which may consist of personal information — often has commercial value, it is important that we consider legal pathways for repurposing research data for commercial use. The draft Code should provide guidance in this regard.

In conclusion, the draft Code marks an important milestone but needs further refinement to reach its potential as a practical tool for researchers. The revised Code could set a robust framework that safeguards privacy, promotes innovation, and contributes to the economic vitality of South Africa.

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