Finance advises on how to avoid ‘big brother’ effect


Commonwealth issues ethical guidelines for data analytics.

Australia's Department of Finance has issued draft guidelines to agencies suggesting ways to ensure each stays within legal and ethical boundaries when pursing 'big data' projects, in order to maintain the trust of an privacy-conscious public.

The spectre of a ‘big brother’ style government with insights into every facet of Australian’s lives is one the Federal Government is careful to avoid. But actors within the government are simultaneously campaigning to make the most of its extensive data stores to inform policy and public administration.

“Trust is an essential requirement between governments and citizens,” the guidelines point out.

“The maintenance of trust is achieved through the behaviours and actions of individuals and government agencies.”

Finance has encouraged those manipulating public service data to adopt the rigours and mindset of an academic or a scientist, by upholding intellectual honesty, maintaining full records and citations and respecting research participants and their information.

In a practical sense, Finance has pointed out that some of the ethical guidelines that have been developed to guide health and social research could and possibly should be called upon in other instances where insights and services are gleaned from citizen data.

For example, the report noted, some bid data projects may fall under the National Statement on conduct on Human Research, and if agencies are partnering with a university or another academic institution they should consider running the process past the in-house research ethics committee.

All data used must adhere to “policies, practices and procedures [that] reflect current information privacy and security principles”, the guide advised.

Writing on the AGIMO blog, Assistant Secretary Marc Vickers encouraged “the community, industry and research institutions” to send in their feedback on the five page adjunct to the Australian Government’s big data best practice guide.

Comments will be open until Monday 11 July 2014.

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Finance advises on how to avoid ‘big brother’ effect
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