At its core, Castellum is about splitting a subject’s data into little pieces. On the one hand this means that users can only access the pieces that are necessary for them. On the other hand this means that castellum contains the necessary information to put all the pieces back together, e.g. so it can be deleted on request.
Contact details are stored in Castellum itself. This means that anyone who wants to get in contact with a subject needs to go through castellum.
Traces of contact data can also exist in the systems that are used for communication, e.g. email servers or payment providers.
Scientific data should never be stored with a subject’s name. Instead, Castellum automatically generates and stores random pseudonyms that can be used to link the data back to the subject.
An alternative approach for generating pseudonyms would be to calculate an encrypted hash over immutable, subject-related information (e.g. name, date of birth)
That approach would have the benefit of not relying on a central infrastructure to store the pseudonyms. However, in cases where such a central infrastructure with strict access control is feasible, Castellum’s approach is much simpler.
For more information on these two approaches, see Anforderungen an den datenschutzkonformen Einsatz von Pseudonymisierungslösungen (german).
The algorithm that is used to generate pseudonyms can be configured. The algorithm that is used by default produces alphanumeric strings with 20 bits of entropy and two checkdigits that are guaranteed to detect single errors. It is also available as a standalone package.
A subject can have many different pseudonyms in different domains. Castellum automatically creates a new domain for each study. There can be more than one domain per study as well as general domains that are not connected to studies at all.
Pseudonyms are only unique (and therefore useful) within their domain. Whenever you use a pseudonym, make sure that it is clear which domain it belongs to. If in doubt, store the domain along with the pseudonym.
It is up to you to decide on a granularity of domains. For example you could use a single domain for all bio samples. Or you could use separate domains for blood, saliva, stool, ….
Using study pseudonyms
Whenever you collect data in the context of a study, it should be stored with a study pseudonym. Pseudonyms can also be printed on questionnaires or passed to external survey services.
Using pseudonyms from general domains
Central repositories (e.g. for bio samples or IQ scores) often store data that is not related to a specific study. In these cases, you can use pseudonyms from a general domain.
Because these pseudonyms are the same across all studies, access to them is highly restricted. Both the user and the study need to be authorized before it shows up in list of pseudonyms. This also means that, even though general domains exist independently of studies, they can only be accessed through studies.