'Convention on Data Ethics' proposed by the Nuffield Foundation

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The Nuffield Foundation has agreed to set up a 'Convention on Data Ethics', working with the RSS, the Royal Society, British Academy and Turing Institute.

In a letter to the RSS, the Nuffield Foundation explained that the Convention would act as a forum connecting interested parties from science, academia, industry, public policy and other organisations. The RSS - along with the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Alan Turing Institute - would be a key partner. The RSS has responded to the Nuffield Foundation's letter confirming that the Society is happy to be involved and looks forward to working with all partners in taking this agenda forward.

In the letter, the Nuffield Foundation acknowledges that 'the Royal Statistical Society has led the thinking on the need for such a body over a number of years.’ 

The RSS has long stated the need for government to establish a Council for Data Ethics in our Data Manifesto (see point 5 on this page). Back in November 2015, we held a workshop on the issue, and suggested it to the Science and Technology committee who then made it a recommendation in its Big Data Dilemma report.

The idea of a data ethics body has been gaining momentum ever since. A new report from the Royal Society and British Academy on data governance recommends a new stewardship body for data and a commitment to setting up a Commission on the Use and Ethics of Data was included in the Conservative Party in its 2017 election manifesto (as described under the Data sharing and ethics heading in this article).

Hetan Shah, RSS executive director, said: ‘The RSS has argued that the changing nature of data and its uses, including the rise of the internet of things, machine learning and algorithms, means that our existing ethical frameworks in this area are becoming stretched. We are delighted, therefore that the Nuffield Foundation will take the lead in establishing a Convention on Data Ethics, in the same way that they showed leadership in establishing the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in the early 1990s. 

'The RSS will be pleased to work with the Nuffield Foundation and other bodies in taking forward the thinking in this area so that we have a strong ethical framework in place, and data can be used in ways that promote not undermine the public interest.’

Further details on the Nuffield Foundation's proposals can be found here.

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UPDATE (11/7/17): The proposal of a Data Ethics Commission set out in the Conservative Party 2017 manifesto, was debated in the House of Lords on 10/7/17. Here is the full text of the debate.

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