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The Imminent Threat of Automated Government

18 January 2017
Australian Privacy Foundation

Centrelink has recently delegated decision-making about people's entitlements to a computer.
And, surprise, surprise, neither the data nor the software are good enough to support the process.

As a result, thousands of people have received demands for copies of old documents, and have been wrongly subjected to ham-fisted actions by commercial debt-collectors.

Buoyed by this 'success', the Department of Health is now asking the Parliament, through whoever is Minister for Health at the time, to authorise it to perform automated decision-making.

The public service is moving in the direction of robot-government, abandoning human-managed business processes in favour of supposedly Artificial Intelligent systems. As the Centrelink debacle has demonstrated, automated decision-making cannot be trusted without direct human oversight.

It is vital that the public stand up right now, and defeat these attempts by the bureaucracy to subject people to decisions based on bad data and badly-designed computer software.

The public service and business alike must be under legal obligations to:

  • act responsibly

  • design business processes to reflect the fact that all results of data matching, and all automated processes, inherently involve errors of fact and judgement, and sometimes of law as well

  • check the output from computer-based systems before acting on it

  • ensure that there is sound evidence supporting all actions taken

  • take no action harmful to the individual until after notice has been given and an appropriate opportunity has been provided for the individual to contest the matter

  • provide copies of the relevant evidence, on request

  • where the individual contests the matter, investigate the concerns and respond to the individual

  • take no action harmful to the individual while the matter remains contested

  • inform the individual about their dispute rights and where to seek advice

    Government agencies must not be permitted the freedom to be irresponsible. 

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