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Event recap: Data ethics and privacy forum

Personal information is, and continues to be, increasingly important currency in today’s digital and information economy, so much so that it has been referred to as – arguably – ‘the new gold’. An important part of the value of data lies in its analysis, resulting in insights and knowledge.

Data analytics presents many benefits, as well as challenges. On one hand it can inform and enhance policy design and decision making, and on the other, risk can arise where personal information is used for purposes other than the original purpose of collection.

Data ethics goes beyond the moral or responsible use of data. It also encompasses broader questions around how we decide what constitutes an ethical collection or use of data, and importantly, who gets to make these decisions.

On 10 December 2018, the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner hosted a public forum on data ethics to explore some of these issues. The forum was held on International Human Rights Day and commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We were joined by two guest speakers: Ed Santow, Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, and Max Miller from the Victorian Centre for Data Insights. Our speakers presented on the topic of data ethics from a human rights and data analytics lens respectively, in what was an informative and engaging forum.

Following an introduction by Deputy Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection, Rachel Dixon, Ed began by noting the positives of using personal information to achieve previously unimaginable outcomes — however, the use of personal information also has the potential to threaten our basic human rights in unprecedented ways. Ed observed that if we’re unable to address these potential threats, we risk a collapse in citizen and consumer trust.

One of Ed’s key messages was that in using technologies involving personal information (including artificial intelligence), we need to be conscious of identifying where risks to privacy may arise, and addressing those risks before using technologies in circumstances where they may affect individuals’ basic human rights.

Max then presented on data analytics in the context of the Victorian government, outlining the role of the Victorian Centre for Data Insights and the legislative framework in which it operates. Max also spoke about the role of data ethics in balancing the social benefits arising from the insights that personal information can provide, and the interest in protecting the privacy of that information. Like Ed, Max noted the importance of building trust with individuals in how their personal information is and will be used.

Max also discussed some of the future challenges of data ethics, and the importance of grounding data ethics in education, rather than as something that an individual is taught and trained in only once they enter the data analytics profession.

The forum ended with a lively Q&A session and closing remarks from Rachel.

We would like to thank our guest speakers Ed Santow and Max Miller for another interesting and successful forum, as well as everyone who came along on the day or watched the event online. A recording of the forum is available on the OVIC Periscope channel.

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