Algorithms: Public Sector Decision-making - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:55 pm on 12th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Digital) 6:55 pm, 12th February 2020

My Lords, I take entirely the noble Lord’s point, but there is a big distinction between what the Government can do about the use of algorithms in the public sector and what the private sector should be regulated by. I think that he is calling for regulation in that respect.

All the aspects that I have mentioned are particularly important for algorithms used by the police and the criminal justice system in decision-making processes. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation should have an important advisory role in all of this. If we do not act, the Legal Education Foundation advises that we will find ourselves in the same position as the Netherlands, where there was a recent decision that an algorithmic risk assessment tool called SyRI, which was used to detect welfare fraud, breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

There is a problem with double standards here. Government behaviour is in stark contrast to the approach of the ICO’s draft guidance, Explaining Decisions Made with AI, which may meet the point just made by the noble Lord. Last March, when I asked an Oral Question on this subject, the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, ended by saying

“Work is going on, but I take the noble Lord’s point that it has to be looked at fairly urgently”.—[Official Report, 14/3/19; col. 1132.]

Where is that urgency? What are we waiting for? Who has to make a decision to act? Where does the accountability lie for getting this right?