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New Zealand: Government Launches Charter on Use of Algorithms by Public Agencies

(July 31, 2020) On July 28, 2020, the New Zealand government launched the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand, with the minister for statistics stating that it was the first country in the world “to outline a set of standards to guide the use of algorithms by public agencies.” The charter, which has been signed by 21 public sector agencies, “commits these agencies to a range of measures, including explaining how decisions are informed by algorithms and embedding a Te Ao Māori [Māori World] perspective in the development and use of algorithms.”

The charter was developed following an October 2018 report by the government chief data steward and chief digital officer assessing the use of algorithms by government agencies. The report found that

while agencies are applying a range of safeguards and assurance processes in relation to the use of their algorithms, there are also opportunities for increased collaboration and sharing of good practice across government. There is also scope to ensure that all of the information that is published explains, in clear and simple terms, how algorithms are informing decisions that affect people in significant ways. (Algorithm Assessment Report at 4.)

The charter also draws on the Principles for the Safe and Effective Use of Data and Analytics, which were jointly developed by the government chief data steward and the privacy commissioner in 2018.

The charter commits the signatory organizations to the following:

  • Maintain transparency by clearly explaining how decisions are informed by algorithms. This may include:
    ›› Plain English documentation of the algorithm,
    ›› Making information about the data and processes available (unless a lawful restriction prevents this),
    ›› Publishing information about how data are collected, secured and stored.
  • Deliver clear public benefit through Treaty commitments by:
    ›› Embedding a Te Ao Māori perspective in the development and use of algorithms consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • Focus on people by:
    ›› Identifying and actively engaging with people, communities and groups who have an interest in
    algorithms, and consulting with those impacted by their use.
  • Make sure data is fit for purpose by:
    ›› Understanding its limitations,
    ›› Identifying and managing bias
  • Ensure that privacy, ethics and human rights are safeguarded by:
    ›› Regularly peer reviewing algorithms to assess for unintended consequences and act on this information
  • Retain human oversight by:
    ›› Nominating a point of contact for public inquiries about algorithms,
    ›› Providing a channel for challenging or appealing of decisions informed by algorithms,
    ›› Clearly explaining the role of humans in decisions informed by algorithms.