New Zealand agencies commit to algorithm charter

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Wednesday, 29 July, 2020

New Zealand agencies commit to algorithm charter

The New Zealand government has launched a world-first set of standards to guide the ethical use of algorithms by public sector agencies.

The Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand has a core goal of improving government transparency and accountability without stifling innovation or causing undue compliance burden for agencies.

The charter has been signed by 21 agencies, including the ministries of the Environment, Justice and Education, the Department of Internal Affairs, and Inland Revenue.

The charter, which has also been published in Māori, has also been signed by the Ministry of Māori Development, Ministry for Pacific Peoples, the Ministry for Social Development and Land Information New Zealand.

Under the new charter, agencies will conduct a risk impact assessment of their algorithm decisions based on a matrix that has on one side the probability of an impact occurring during standard operations and on the other the anticipated extent of this impact.

For decisions that are found to rank highly on both criteria, agencies have agreed to apply the charter. This approach will allow agencies to focus on decisions that have a high risk while excluding many business-as-usual activities.

Signatories to the charter have committed to maintaining transparency by clearly explaining how decisions are informed by algorithms.

According to the charter, this may include publishing plain English documentation of the algorithm, as well as making publicly available information about the data and processes being used and how this data is collected, secured and stored.

Agencies have also committed to honour the government’s Treaty of Waitangi commitments by embedding a Māori perspective in the development and use of algorithms.

Likewise, signatories have committed to regularly peer reviewing algorithms to ensure privacy, ethics and human rights are protected.

Other commitments focused on citizens include consulting with people who have an interest in algorithms or are impacted by their use before making decisions, and nominating a point of contact for public inquiries about algorithms.

Meanwhile, the government plans to provide a channel for challenging or appealing decisions informed by algorithms.

A provision built into the charter will ensure it is reviewed after 12 months to ensure it is fit for purpose.

Minister for Statistics James Shaw said the New Zealand government hopes other governments worldwide follow the nation’s lead and establish their own algorithm charters.

“Most New Zealanders recognise the important role algorithms play in supporting government decision-making and policy delivery; however, they also want to know that these systems are being used safely and responsibly,” he said.

“The Charter will give people that confidence. It will help to build public trust over the long term, meaning that we can unlock the full potential of data to improve people’s lives. Today we have set a world-leading example of how government can work with diverse groups of people, communities and organisations to improve transparency and accountability in the use of data.”

Image credit: ©

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