Information Commissioner John Edwards has warned the UK government that it could face contempt of court if it does not improve its response to requests for transparency over the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in welfare claims. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been deploying machine-learning algorithms to detect fraud and error in universal credit claims. However, the government has refused to disclose information about the system, arguing that doing so could help fraudsters. The DWP recently expanded the use of AI to assess claimants’ savings declarations, applications made by cohabitants, self-employed people, and people applying for housing support, among others. The system has shown some evidence of bias, according to the DWP’s own trials.
Mr Edwards has now given the DWP 35 days to spell out the terms under which it could release more information or face contempt of court charges.
In a comment for the article, Silkie Carlo, director for Big Brother Watch, said: “It is totally unacceptable to refuse legal requests for information about the use of powerful technologies that run a high risk of causing unfair and discriminatory impacts on some of our country’s most vulnerable people... Algorithms in the welfare system tend to cast a wide net of digital suspicion and can be dangerously wrong, with serious harms. Government uses of AI should trigger much greater public transparency, not less. People have the right to understand how their information is being used and why decisions are made about them, rather than to be left at the mercy of opaque AI.”
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