NZ government consults on algorithm usage

Draft charter developed by the government chief data steward

New Zealand’s minister for statistics, James Shaw, has released a draft Algorithm Charter on government use of algorithms and initiated a public consultation on the issue.

The draft charter has been developed by the government chief data steward in response to growing calls for more transparency in government use of data.

In May 2018 The New Zealand Human Rights Commission warned that public sector use of algorithms for predictive purposes could lead to unfair treatment of individuals or groups and said steps should be taken to ensure such practices conform with human rights and ethical standards.

The draft charter commits government agencies to improving transparency and accountability in their use of algorithms over the next five years. It has been produced in response to the recommendations from the Algorithm Assessment Report released in 2018.

Shaw said the government last year had commissioned a review of how agencies were 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,” he said.

“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.”

Release of the draft is the latest in a series of initiatives looking at government 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.

• Also in May 2018 government digital services minister Clare Curran and Shaw announced a project to examine the use of algorithms by NZ government agencies.

• 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. It warned that data bias posed a significant challenge for effective algorithm use, and said there was little monitoring to detect any bias.

• 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.

The draft Algorithm Charter is open for pubic consultation until 31 December.

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