September 28, 2020

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New Zealand forms Data Ethics Advisory Group

Data can produce meaningful insights to inform decision-making, improve services, and drive innovation.

The Government Chief Data Steward (GCDS) Liz MacPherson, Chief Executive of Stats NZ, recently formed a Data Ethics Advisory Group.

According to a recent press release, the Data Ethics Advisory Group was convened to help government agencies use data appropriately and effectively.

This will guarantee that New Zealanders can have trust and confidence in the way their data is collected and used.

Collecting and using public data are both important in the state sector. Policymakers need good data to understand the demand for government services and, ultimately, to improve them.

Government Algorithm Transparency

A report released last year on the government use of algorithms detailed how government agencies are using automated analytical tools to harness the power of data and deliver better services to the public.

The review initially focused on operational algorithms that result in, or inform, decisions that directly impact people or groups.

Fourteen government agencies self-assessed the algorithms they use to deliver their functions, focussing on areas most directly impacting decisions related to people.

Up until this point, there have been limited ways to provide assurance that these tools are being used appropriately.

The Data Ethics Advisory Group

In response to the report, the Data Ethics Advisory Group has been established to bring in perspectives and expertise from outside government on the use of data.

As public servants, there is a need to be honest and to acknowledge that the government does not have all the answers.

This Group will help ensure decisions around the use of data are made with input from people who have a range of backgrounds and expertise.

Group members were appointed after an expression of interest process. Specifically, expertise was sought to represent the following areas:

  1. Privacy and human rights law
  2. Ethics
  3. Innovative data use and data analytics
  4. Te Ao Māori
  5. Technology
  6. Public policy and government interests in the use of data

Professor Juliet Gerrard, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and Professor in Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland, has been appointed as the Group’s Chair.

According to the Professor, this group will provide a forum in which to discuss in depth the great opportunities that the combination of data and technology can bring to benefit Aotearoa New Zealand.

At the same time, keeping front of mind the growing challenges the country will face to ensure that the data is appropriately and sensitively treated, and that data sovereignty is respected.

The Group will meet four times a year in Wellington. The first meeting will be held in September 2019. Both the function and membership of the group will be reviewed after 12 months.