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Pushing for Transparency in NZ Government’s Use of Data

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

According to a recent press release, the charter has been developed by the Government Chief Data Steward in response to growing calls for more transparency in government use of data.

Background of the Charter

  • Computer algorithms are procedures or formulas for solving a problem or carrying out a task. They have become an increasingly important tool for analysing large amounts of data.
  • The Minister explained that many government agencies are already harnessing the power of data to deliver improved public services for New Zealanders.
  • They have come up with innovative solutions to complex problems, such as NEET. It is Work and Income’s Youth Service that uses an algorithm to identify at-risk school leavers and offer them support.
  • However, as these techniques grow in scale and sophistication, it is critical that New Zealanders can be confident their data is being handled appropriately, and that proper safeguards are being applied.

Algorithm Charter

  • The Government had commissioned a review of how agencies are using operational algorithms to deliver core services last year.
  • Based on the review, they discovered the 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.
  • The Government is committed to transparency, accountability, and fulfilling its responsibilities under the Open Government Partnership.
  • Everyone is encouraged to look at the charter, and think carefully about what it means to them, their community and their whanau.

Previous Government Initiatives

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 the government on the use of public data.

Over the 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 public consultation until 31 December.

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