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NSW Data Analytics Centre staff receiving ethics training

NSW Data Analytics Centre staff receiving ethics training

DAC staff will learn to “take the responsibilities of citizen data seriously”

Staff at the New South Wales Government’s Data Analytics Centre (DAC) are receiving ethics training, to ensure they “take the responsibilities of citizen data seriously”, it has been revealed.

The DAC – a whole-of-government data analytics office established in 2015 – is developing its ethics capability through staff training based on UTS’ Master of Data Science and Innovation course.

The centre has engaged Dr Theresa Dirndorfer Anderson, former director of the UTS course, to deliver the training.

Anderson – known as the “proud mother of DAClings” given the number of her Masters graduates that have been employed by the centre – told the ethics of data science conference at University of Sydney last week the “ongoing engagement” would take a “human centred approach”.

“Because what we’re working with here are datasets from extremely vulnerable populations in highly sensitive areas …there is a very strong commitment within the DAC to developing safe frameworks for working with these datasets and develop the practices to allow us to take the responsibilities of citizen data seriously,” said Anderson, now working as a consultant for Ethics for AI and Automated Decision Making.

Ethical use of data and AI is a priority for the DAC’s chief data scientist and CEO Dr Ian Oppermann, she said.

As a result of the work, data scientists will be taught to speak for those in the community who don’t have a voice.

“Ethical responsibilities are not only embedded into the way they are trained but they are also expected to develop the capacity to speak for those who cannot speak. They’re expected to not just be a technician who says ‘the computer says no and I have nothing to do with it,’ but take responsibility,” Anderson said.

“The other big aspect of this is making the invisible visible. It is critical that we recognise that it’s important to constantly remain vigilant to the need to recognise, uncover and address missing data, people who are misrepresented in data, and people who are underrepresented or not at all,” she added.

The DAC has been criticised for some of its projects, such as a data analytics effort launched in South Sydney in 2016 to determine who lives where and with whom.

“This is serious, Big Brother stuff,” Anna Johnston, director of privacy consultancy Salinger Privacy, wrote at the time.

Anderson said that the ethics capability effort would help answer the question: “How do you build public trust in an organisation’s data practices”?

“There is an absolute obligation for anyone who works in this industry to find ways to advocate and encourage people who feel they have no voice in this to have a voice,” she added.

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