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Algorithm charter for Aotearoa New Zealand

The Algorithm charter for Aotearoa New Zealand demonstrates a commitment to ensuring New Zealanders have confidence in how government agencies use algorithms. The charter is one of many ways that government demonstrates transparency and accountability in the use of data.

However, it cannot fully address important considerations, such as Māori data sovereignty, as these are complex and require separate consideration.

Algorithm charter - Te Reo Māori [PDF 202 KB]

Algorithm charter - English [PDF 220 KB]

Signatories 

The Algorithm charter for Aotearoa New Zealand is an initiative for the government’s data system. Founding signatories to the charter are: 

  • Te Ara Poutama Aotearoa — The Department of Corrections
  • Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga — The Ministry of Education
  • Te Manatū Mō Te Taiao — The Ministry for the Environment
  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development
  • Te Tari Taake — Inland Revenue Department
  • Te Tāhū o te Ture — The Ministry of Justice
  • Toitū Te Whenua — Land Information New Zealand
  • Te Puni Kōkiri — The Ministry of Māori Development
  • Oranga Tamariki - The Ministry for Children
  • The Ministry for Pacific Peoples
  • Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora — The Ministry of Social Development
  • Te Tatauranga Aotearoa — Statistics New Zealand
  • Te Manatū Waka — The Ministry of Transport
  • Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa—Pike River Recovery Agency
  • Te Minitatanga mō ngā Wāhine — The Ministry for Women
  • Te Hau Tāngata — Social Wellbeing Agency
  • Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa — New Zealand Defence Force
  • Te Kaporeihana Āwhina Hunga Whara — Accident Compensation Corporation
  • Te Tari Taiwhenua — Department of Internal Affairs
  • Te Arawhiti — The Office for Māori Crown Relations 
  • Waka Kotahi — The New Zealand Transport Agency
  • Te Tari Arotake Matauranga — The Education Review Office
  • Hīkina Whakatutuki — The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment
  • Manatū Aorere — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Manatū Hauora — The Ministry of Health

Contents

The value of algorithms

Definitions

Review

Foundations

Assessing likelihood and impact

Application and commitment

Commitment

Signatures

The value of algorithms

Government agencies use data to help inform, improve and deliver the services provided to people in New Zealand every day. Simple algorithms can be used to standardise business processes to ensure scarce resources are distributed equitably. More complex algorithms can be used to distil information from large or complex data sets to support human decision-making and reveal insights that could not easily be revealed by human analysis alone.

These algorithms can be used to help government better understand New Zealand and New Zealanders. This knowledge helps government make good decisions and deliver services that are more effective and efficient. The use of algorithms can mitigate the risk that human biases will enter into the administration of government services and result in real benefits for everyone.

However, the opportunities also bring fresh challenges. For example, human bias could be perpetuated, or even amplified by, algorithms that are not designed and operated in thoughtful ways. Transparency and accountability are critical to ensuring that the public can trust and support the government to use these tools in appropriate ways.

This Charter is a commitment by government agencies to carefully manage how algorithms will be used to strike the right balance between privacy and transparency, prevent unintended bias and reflect the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Definitions

There are a wide range of advanced analytical tools that can fit under the term ‘algorithm’. These range from less advanced techniques such as regression models and decision trees, which primarily support predictions and streamline business processes, through to more complex systems, such as neural networks and Bayesian models, which can take on properties of machine learning as they make advanced calculations and predictions.

A good discussion of the different types of predictive algorithms and the challenges of defining these is contained in ‘Government Use of Artificial Intelligence in New Zealand’ (New Zealand Law Foundation and Otago University, 2019).

The risks and benefits associated with algorithms are largely unrelated to the types of algorithms being used. Very simple algorithms could result in just as much benefit (or harm) as the most complex algorithms depending on the content, focus and intended recipients of the business processes at hand. As a consequence, this Charter does not specify a technical definition of an algorithm. It instead commits signatories to take a particular focus on those algorithms that have a high risk of unintended consequences and/or have a significant impact if things do go wrong, particularly for vulnerable communities.

Review

The Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand is an evolving piece of work that needs to respond to emerging technologies and also be fit-for-purpose for government agencies. After twelve months a review of the Algorithm Charter will be conducted, to ensure it is achieving its intended purpose of improving government transparency and accountability without stifling innovation or causing undue compliance burden.

Foundations

The Algorithm Charter is part of a wider ecosystem and works together with existing tools, networks and research, including:

  • Principles for the Safe and Effective Use of Data and Analytics (Privacy Commissioner and Government Chief Data Steward, 2018)
  • Government Use of Artificial Intelligence in New Zealand (New Zealand Law Foundation and Otago University, 2019)
  • Trustworthy AI in Aotearoa – AI Principles (AI Forum New Zealand, 2020)
  • Open Government Partnership, an international agreement to increase transparency.
  • Data Protection and Use Policy (Social Wellbeing Agency, 2020)
  • Privacy, Human Rights and Ethics Framework (Ministry of Social Development).

Principles for the safe and effective use of data and analytics

Government use of artificial intelligence in New Zealand [PDF 1.3 MB]

Trustworthy AI in Aotearoa - AI principles

Open government partnership

Data protection and use policy

Privacy, human rights, and ethics framework [PDF 258 KB]

Assessing likelihood and impact

The Algorithm Assessment Report found that advanced analytics and data use are an essential part of delivering public services. Applying the Charter to every business rule and process would be impossible for agencies to comply with and not achieve the intended benefits of the Charter.

However, where algorithms are being employed by government agencies in a way that can significantly impact on the wellbeing of people, or there is a high likelihood many people will suffer an unintended adverse impact, it is appropriate to apply the Charter.

Charter signatories will make an assessment of their algorithm decisions using the risk matrix below. This supports their evaluation, by quantifying the likelihood of an unintended adverse outcome against its relative level of impact to derive an overall level of risk.

The risk rating determines the application of the Charter.

The risk matrix featured in the Algorithm charter

Application and commitment

The Charter will apply differently to each signatory. The risk matrix approach means that signatories can focus first on decisions that have a high risk and exclude most of the many business rules that government agencies use every day to give effect to legislative requirements and for business as usual activities.

The intention is to focus on those uses of algorithms that have a high or critical risk of unintended harms for New Zealanders. This commitment will be reviewed in twelve months as part of the scope review (as of July 2020).

Commitment

Our organisation understands that decisions made using algorithms impact people in New Zealand. We commit to making an assessment of the impact of decisions informed by our algorithms. We further commit to applying the Algorithm Charter commitments as guided by the identified risk rating.

Algorithm Charter Commitments:

Transparency
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.

Partnership
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.

People
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.

Data
Make sure data is fit for purpose by:

  • understanding its limitations
  • identifying and managing bias.

Privacy, ethics, and human rights
Ensure that privacy, ethics and human rights are safeguarded by:

  • regularly peer reviewing algorithms to assess for unintended consequences and act on this information.

Human oversight
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.

Signatures 

Confirmed founding signatories for Algorithm Charter:

  • Te Ara Poutama Aotearoa — The Department of Corrections
  • Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga — The Ministry of Education
  • Te Manatū Mō Te Taiao — The Ministry for the Environment
  • The Ministry of Housing and Urban Development
  • Te Tari Taake — Inland Revenue Department
  • Te Tāhū o te Ture — The Ministry of Justice
  • Toitū Te Whenua — Land Information New Zealand
  • Te Puni Kōkiri — The Ministry of Māori Development
  • Oranga Tamariki - The Ministry for Children
  • The Ministry for Pacific Peoples
  • Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora — The Ministry of Social Development
  • Te Tatauranga Aotearoa — Statistics New Zealand
  • Te Manatū Waka — The Ministry of Transport
  • Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa—Pike River Recovery Agency
  • Te Minitatanga mō ngā Wāhine — The Ministry for Women
  • Te Hau Tāngata — Social Wellbeing Agency
  • Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa — New Zealand Defence Force
  • Te Kaporeihana Āwhina Hunga Whara — Accident Compensation Corporation
  • Te Tari Taiwhenua — Department of Internal Affairs
  • Te Arawhiti — The Office for Māori Crown Relations 
  • Waka Kotahi — The New Zealand Transport Agency
  • Te Tari Arotake Matauranga — The Education Review Office
  • Hīkina Whakatutuki — The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment
  • Manatū Aorere — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Manatū Hauora — The Ministry of Health
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