Review launched into government use of algorithms

Review launched into government use of algorithms

Transparency and accountability need to be ensured when computers make decisions on our behalf

Clare Curran

Clare Curran

The government is launching a project to assess how government agencies use algorithms to analyse people’s data, to ensure transparency and fairness in decisions affecting citizens.

Minister for Government Digital Services Clare Curran and Statistics Minister James Shaw said jurisdictions around the world are looking at how their data and privacy laws are fit for the digital age.

In New Zealand there is a review of the Privacy Act under way while Europe's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on Friday.

The announcement follows last week's release by StatsNZ and the Privacy Commissioner of six principles to guide data use.

The work will be led by Government chief data steward and StatsNZ CEO Liz MacPherson and Government chief digital officer and Department of Internal Affairs CEO Colin MacDonald.

A recently announced AI action plan and ethical framework will educate and up-skill people on the issues, Curran said, starting with ethics and governance.

"We’re also working internationally within the Digital 7 nations to take the lead on digital rights,” Curran said. “The government is acutely aware of the need to ensure transparency and accountability as interest grows regarding the challenges and opportunities associated with emerging technology such as artificial intelligence (AI)."

Examples of current algorithm programs include one at the Ministry of Health to ensure donated organs save lives or the NZ Transport Agency’s computer modelling to make roads safer.

New Zealand is leading the D7 work with the UK, Israel, Estonia, South Korea, Canada and Uruguay working to consider how digital technology impacts fundamental human rights and to share best practice about ways to tackle challenges.

“Using existing data to help model possible outcomes is an important part of modern government decision-making,” said Shaw.

But there are challenges as well, and government needs to ensure that transparency and procedural fairness are maintained.

“That’s why we’ve asked officials to examine how government currently uses algorithms, to give New Zealanders confidence that their data is being used appropriately.”

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