Vast swathes of data on individuals is being used to construct algorithms that are being used by some local authorities to inform child safeguarding.
The algorithms are being used to highlight families that might need help from children’s services, according to an investigation by The Guardian newspaper.
The paper reports that there are five councils either developing or using predictive analysis to assist their children’s services teams, and the data of 377,000 individuals has been used in building the computer constructed models.
However there are serious concerns around privacy and data usage, as well as whether the algorithms might be replicating, potentially discriminatory, human biases and prejudices.
The councils named as developing these systems are Brent, Newham, Hackney, Thurrock and Bristol.
A Breach of Privacy?
The Data Protection Act 1998, is underpinned by fundamental human rights. As a result data protection legislation take into account people’s right to a private life, which is protected by Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.
Article 8 requires public bodies to respect the private life of an individual and any information held about them. They must be able to justify storing or processing of any personal data.
In addition, the Human Rights Convention outlines that governments have a duty to ensure that national laws provide adequate protection for personal data more generally.
Since the introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation on May 25, 2018, regulation around how our personal data is collected, stored and is used by others has become standardised across the European Union and, arguably, tighter.
It means our right to privacy under the Human Rights Convention and the fundamental right to protection of our personal data (under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights) are explicitly protected.
The Information Commissioner’s Office is Looking into the Matter
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which regulates the use of personal data by public and private bodies, will be ensuring whether councils’ use of algorithms complies with data protection laws.
“All organisations have a duty to look after personal information in their care but records involving children – often sensitive personal data – require particularly robust measures,” an ICO spokesperson told The Guardian.
records involving children – often sensitive personal data – require particularly robust measures
The Information Commissioner’s Office
As the use of data alongside artificial intelligence and machine learning becomes a more common feature of our lives, there is ongoing debate between striking a balance between privacy and technology being used for public good.
This case also raises ethical issues including whether algorithms and machine-learning systems incorporate the biases and prejudices of the humans who have created them, and also the human rights implications of models predicting human behaviour that in turn lead to intervention before a crime has happened.