Govt agencies sign up to new public sector algorithm charter

Govt agencies sign up to new public sector algorithm charter

The New Zealand government has claimed to become the first in the world to lay out such a set of standards

Credit: Dreamstime

Twenty-one government agencies have signed up to the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand, a new set of standards introduced by the government to guide the use of algorithms by public agencies.

The New Zealand government has claimed to become the first in the world to lay out such a set of standards, with Minister for Statistics, James Shaw, launching the charter in a bid to give New Zealanders confidence that data is being used safely and effectively across government.

The Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand follows a recommendation by the Government Chief Data Steward and Chief Digital Officer, who said in a 2018 report that the safe and effective use of operational algorithms required greater consistency across Government.

The Charter draws on the Principles for the Safe and Effective Use of Data and Analytics co-designed by the Government Chief Data Steward and the Privacy Commissioner.

The Charter is one of a wide range of government initiatives to improve transparency, including the convening of an independent data ethics advisory group and work on improving data ethics education at a tertiary level.

“We live in a data rich world where algorithms play a crucial role in helping us to make connections, and identify relationships and patterns across vast quantities of information. This helps to improve decision-making and leads to benefits such as the faster delivery of targeted public services,” Shaw said in a statement.

Algorithms are used by agencies to help process and interpret large amounts of data, which can speed up decision-making.

“However, using algorithms to analyse data and inform decisions does not come without its risks. It is important, therefore, that people have confidence that these algorithms are being used in a fair, ethical, and transparent way. And that’s what this charter is all about,” Shaw said.

From Shaw’s perspective, 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. 

“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,” Shaw said.

“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. It is an example that we hope others will follow,” he added.

The agencies that have already signed the charter include the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Education, the Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Justice, and Inland Revenue. 

The charter is designed to commit these agencies to a range of measures, including explaining how decisions are informed by algorithms and embedding a Te Ao Māori perspective in the development and use of algorithms.

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