Government to undertake urgent algorithm stocktake

Minister for Government Digital Services Clare Curran and Statistics Minister James Shaw have announced a project to assess how government agencies use algorithms to analyse people’s data, to ensure transparency and fairness in decisions that affect citizens.

“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)”, says Clare Curran.

“Jurisdictions around the world are looking at how their data and privacy laws are fit for the digital age, with examples such as the Privacy Bill in New Zealand and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, which comes in to effect on Friday.

“The recently announced AI action plan and ethical framework will educate and upskill people on these issues, starting with ethics and governance.

"We’re also working internationally within the Digital 7 nations to take the lead on digital rights,” said Ms Curran. 

New Zealand is leading the work with the UK, Israel, Estonia, South Korea, Canada and Uruguay working together 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,” says James Shaw.

Computer algorithms search for patterns in relevant data to help model potential outcomes that could occur given different circumstances.

“Examples include computer programs used by the Ministry of Health to ensure donated organs save lives, or the NZ Transport Agency’s computer modelling to make our roads safer.

“They show the power of data to make a positive difference to New Zealanders.

“But there are challenges as well, and we need 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.”

Background:

  • The first step will be a review of government’s use of algorithms. 
  • These occur when computer programs (algorithms) search for patterns in relevant data, to help model potential outcomes that could occur given different circumstances.
  • This work will be led by the Government Chief Data Steward (Liz MacPherson, Chief Executive of Stats NZ) and the Government Chief Digital Officer (Colin MacDonald, Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs) 
  • The first stage of the review is expected to be completed by August. 
  • It will provide a foundation for a series of measures focussing on improving government’s transparency and accountability for the way it uses data.  This will include developing new guidelines for government agencies to help ensure consistent standards are in place across the public sector.

Related links:

Announcement of AI Action plan:

https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/government-will-move-quickly-ai-action-plan

Ministry of Health algorithm for probability of 5-year post-transplant survival in New Zealand:

https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/pages/use-post-kidney-transplant-survival-probability-algorithm.pdf

NZ Transport Agency treatment selection algorithm

https://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/resources/599/599-treatment-selection-algorithm-summary-feb19.pdf