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New Zealand Claims World First in Setting Standards for Government Use of Algorithms


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Police operations are among the many uses for algorithms.

New Zealand statistics minister James Shaw said algorithms determined matters from the seemingly innocuous, such as when the traffic lights change on a central Wellington street, to the more serious, including police decision-making for front-line officers, and their use was expanding.

Credit: Sanka Vidanagama/AFP/Getty Images

New Zealand's government says it is the first in the world to produce a set of standards for how public agencies should use the algorithms that increasingly drive decision-making by officials about every area of public life.

The increasing application of algorithms by governments around the world—particularly when they are deployed to profile or generate decisions about citizens by law enforcement, immigration, welfare and health agencies—has proved controversial in recent years. Critics claim that decision-making driven by lines of code can be inaccurate and discriminatory and that their use is often kept secret from the public.

A Dutch court ruled in February that an automated surveillance system to detect welfare fraud was unlawful—a decision that provoked debate about the need for greater scrutiny in other nations.

New Zealand is no exception: a 2019 review of algorithm use in the public sector had found "huge variability as to the extent of the use and how they were being used," said James Shaw, the statistics minister and co-leader of the left-leaning Green party.

He said algorithms determined matters from the seemingly innocuous – such as when the traffic lights changed on a central Wellington street – to the more serious, including police decision-making for frontline officers, and their use was expanding.

 

From The Guardian (U.K.)
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