The only way is ethics: emphasises moral compass amid deluge of data plans

Civil servants get cheat sheet for procuring analytics

The UK government has released a guide to help civil servants figure out how to use and procure data science tools ethically as public opinion on slurping continues to circle the drain.

Amid the Facebook data harvesting scandal and news of yet another high-profile data breach, the government made a raft of announcements aimed at boosting the UK's data capabilities – but also emphasised the importance of ethics, including launching a consultation on its new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

The plans – made as part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport's (DCMS) press offensive to coincide with London Tech Week – include industrial masters programmes in artificial intelligence; the opening up of the Ordnance Survey's geospatial data to small businesses; and £350,000 funding for Internet of Things research.

There is also a national data strategy in the offing, though the canned statement from the department was light on detail, indicating just that it would focus on its use in both the UK economy and by government.

Parliament photo by Shutterstock

Muzzle our public watchdog much? Data Protection Bill adds affect the ICO


The move is further indication of Whitehall's growing obsession with data – or, more accurately, its perceived potential to cut costs in service delivery, which has given some people pause, especially when some departments have revealed quite gung-ho attitudes to data-sharing or processing.

The Data Ethics Framework is one of the ways the government hopes to demonstrate it is taking the issue of proper use of data seriously, aiming to act as a sanity check for civil servants who work with data, either directly or indirectly.

The idea is for the framework to act as a guide to the limitations of data and data science; it sets out questions and issues to consider, such as bias or errors in data sets, algorithmic bias, fairness and accountability, and the need for transparency.

The decision to create the framework is partly down to the increasing number of non-data scientists working with data in one way or another. As the civil service struggles to recruit and retain staff with data science skills, it needs to train up staffers quickly – so it is hoped that the document will help them develop this aspect of their thinking.

There is also a section for civil servants procuring analytics rather than building them – arguably an area where there is less knowledge of data science. This sets out questions to ask vendors, in a bid to ensure the systems the government buys meet the same ethical principles.

For instance, it asks what data was used to train the algorithm, how interpretable it is, how performance can be assessed and whether this can be done independently of the provider.

In parallel with this is the government's supposedly independent Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which was first mooted in November 2017 and aims to act as a bridge between regulators, academia, the public and business.

false teeth in glass

Another toothless wonder? Why the's data ethics centre needs clout


The government has just announced the appointment of healthcare data management startup boss Roger Taylor as chair, alongside a consultation (PDF) that sets out its plans.

These are: to analyse and anticipate gaps in the governance landscape; set best practice guidance on ethical and innovative uses of data; and advise government on any specific policy or regulatory actions.

The initial areas of focus echo those in the Data Ethics Framework, as well as picking up on the current concerns about how data can be used to influence or manipulate, and issues that will face businesses working in the area. They are: targeting, fairness, transparency, liability, data access and intellectual property rights.

Respondents are asked their opinions on those areas of focus, the centre's overall remit and how it can work to engage the public. The deadline is 5 September.

However, missing from this swathe of announcements – made as DCMS begins wielding its newfound power of data, having seized it from the increasingly irrelevant central Government Digital Service – is the controversial Framework for Data Processing in Government.

This was provided for in the Data Protection Act, and is expected to say how departments can process and share personal data, meaning it will be a crucial piece of the puzzle.

The Reg has asked DCMS to confirm when this is due to be published; we'll update this article if they get back to us. ®

Similar topics

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022