by Divina Paredes

NZ gov’t announces urgent algorithm stocktake

May 23, 2018
Big DataCareersDigital Transformation

Minister for Government Digital Services Clare Curran and Statistics Minister James Shaw have reported the government will assess how its agencies are using algorithms to analyse people’s data.

The work will be led by 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.

The project will provide a foundation for a series of measures focusing 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.

“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 Curran, in a statement.

“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 into 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, she says.

“Using existing data to help model possible outcomes is an important part of modern government decision-making,” says 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.”

Gartner analyst Dean Lacheca has reported how the use of data, through, analytics can play a key role in sustainability in government.

Evidence based decisions and outcomes-based budgets depend on the quality of the data and analytics, he points out. The equitable distribution and utilisation of resources helps maintain stable environments and societies.

“Digital transformation revolves around data,” notes another Gartner analyst, Rick Howard.

To be successful, he says, public sector CIOs need to focus on expanding their data and analytics capabilities and creating a data-centric culture, by increasing the availability of open data and APIs for internal use and public consumption.

Curran, meanwhile, says the government is also working within the Digital 7 nations to take the lead on digital rights.

New Zealand is leading the work with the UK, Israel, Estonia, South Korea, Canada and Uruguay working to consider how digital technology impacts fundamental human rights and to share best practice about ways to tackle challenges.