NZ proposes charter for ethical algorithm use

Tuesday, 22 October, 2019

NZ proposes charter for ethical algorithm use

New Zealand’s government agencies could soon be subject to a charter, designed to improve transparency and accountability in data and algorithm use.

The proposed charter — developed by the NZ Government Chief Data Steward — would see agencies committed to: explaining “how significant decisions are informed by algorithms”; publishing information about data storage and collection methods and using “tools and processes to ensure that privacy, ethics and human rights considerations are integrated as part of algorithm development and procurement”, among other activities, over the next five years.

The draft is currently open for public consultation, with the government seeking feedback on whether the charter improves confidence in government algorithm use, which algorithms it should apply to and whether they’ve achieved the “right balance” to allow innovation while retaining transparency. They’re also looking to confirm they’ve covered all individuals, communities and organisations’ concerns.

Minister for Statistics James Shaw said: “Many government agencies are already harnessing the power of data to deliver improved public services for New Zealanders — coming up with innovative solutions to complex problems.

“For example, Work and Income’s Youth Service, NEET, uses an algorithm to identify at-risk school leavers and offer them support.

“But as these techniques grow in scale and sophistication, it’s critical that New Zealanders can be confident their data is being handled appropriately and that proper safeguards are being applied.

“Last year, our government commissioned a review of how agencies are using operational algorithms to deliver core services. The review found a need for agencies to be more transparent about how algorithms are informing decisions that affect people in significant ways.

“The proposed charter has been drafted in response to this finding, and will encourage ethical and open practices, as well as fostering greater consistency and collaboration across government agencies,” Shaw said.

The Algorithm Charter will be open for discussion until 31 December.

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