Ministers launch probe into racial bias risk in justice system tech

Posted On: 
20th March 2019

Ministers have launched a probe into whether computers in the justice system are making racially-biased decisions.

The Cabinet Office’s Race Disparity Unit will partner in the project
Credit: 
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The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) will look for possible unfairness in the use of algorithms across crime and justice, financial services, recruitment and local government sectors.

It will get help looking at racial bias in the justice system from the Race Disparity Unit - which is based in the Cabinet Office.

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Some police forces have started using the technology in their work, such as the Harm Assessment Risk Tool in Durham, which determines whether individuals are eligible for deferred prosecution based on the future risk of offending. 

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “Technology is a force for good and continues to improve people’s lives but we must make sure it is developed in a safe and secure way.

“Our Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation has been set up to help us achieve this aim and keep Britain at the forefront of technological development.

“I’m pleased its team of experts is undertaking an investigation into the potential for bias in algorithmic decision-making in areas including crime, justice and financial services.

“I look forward to seeing the centre’s future recommendations to help make sure we maximise the benefits of these powerful technologies for society.”

The CDEI is due to explore ways to boost innovation in the digital economy, and in recruitment by looking at how computer algorithms can screen CVs and shortlist candidates.

Transparency and fairness when it comes to granting loans and offering other financial services will also be scrutinised. 

CDEI chair Roger Taylor, due to speak at a Downing Street event setting out the strategy, is expected to say: “The Centre is focused on addressing the greatest challenges and opportunities posed by data driven technology.  

“These are complex issues and we will need to take advantage of the expertise that exists across the UK and beyond. If we get this right, the UK can be the global leader in responsible innovation. 

“We want to work with organisations so they can maximise the benefits of data driven technology and use it to ensure the decisions they make are fair. 

“As a first step we will be exploring the potential for bias in key sectors where the decisions made by algorithms can have a big impact on people’s lives. 

“I am delighted that the Centre is today publishing its strategy setting out our priorities."