Driving transparency, ethics and accountability in government use of algorithms

Minister for Statistics James Shaw today announced a public consultation on a proposed algorithm charter for government agencies.

The charter has been developed by the Government Chief Data Steward in response to growing calls for more transparency in government use of data.

Computer algorithms – procedures or formulas for solving a problem or carrying out a task – have become an increasingly important tool for analysing large amounts of data.

“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,” said James Shaw.

“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.”

“Our Government is committed to transparency, accountability, and fulfilling our responsibilities under the Open Government Partnership. I encourage everyone to look at the charter, and think carefully about what it means to them, their community and their whanau.”

The proposed charter builds on other work to improve government accountability and transparency around algorithms and data use.

  • In May 2018 the Privacy Commissioner and Government Chief Data Steward published Principles for the Safe and Effective Use of Data and Analytics to guide government data use.
  • In October 2018, The Government Chief Data Steward and Government Chief Digital Officer released the Algorithm Assessment Report, which detailed the use of automated analytical tools in 14 government agencies, and made recommendations for improvement.
  • In June this year, the Government Chief Data Steward convened an independent Data Ethics Advisory Group to bring in perspectives and expertise from outside government on the use of public data.
  • Over coming months, the Government Chief Data Steward will also begin work to identify opportunities to embed data ethics through training and professional development at all levels of the government analytics workforce.
  • The draft Algorithm Charter is open for pubic consultation until 31 December. Click here for more information.