On Tuesday 9 July 2019, PICTFOR hosted a roundtable on tech ethics in the Houses of Parliament in partnership with the Cross-Party Commission on Tech Ethics. The event examined the Online Harms White Paper and the recommendations of the recently published Data and Technology Ethics Inquiry report. It provided a forum to speak about ethical issues in the increasingly digital world and potential solutions involving regulation.
The event featured the following speakers:
- Darren Jones MP, PICTFOR Co-Chair & Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Tech Ethics
- Lee Rowley MP, PICTFOR Officer & Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Tech Ethics
- Simon McDougall, Executive Director, Technology Policy and Innovation, ICO
- Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh, Warwick Engineering student, Co-Founder of WomenWarwick and member of the Institute for the Future of Work’s Youth Steering Group
- Roger Taylor, Chair, Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation
- Chair: Casey Calista, PICTFOR Secretariat and Head of Tech & Digital at Lodestone
Opening the event, event chair Casey Calista, PICTFOR Secretariat, welcomed guests and provided an overview of PICTFOR and its role in facilitating important policy discussions. She outlined to guests that the roundtable event would focus on the theme of tech ethics and discuss themes from both the Online Harms White Paper and the recommendations of the recently published Data and Technology Ethics Inquiry report. She said that the key things they have in common are trust and participation, and outlined three questions for further discussion:
- Who is listened to?
- Who is data open to?
- How do we ensure we’re not replicating bias?
The first speaker Darren Jones MP, PICTFOR Co-Chair & Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Technology Ethics, spoke about why he and Lee Rowley MP wanted to conduct the Data and Technology Ethics Inquiry. He said that when they arrived in the House of Commons in 2017, they were conscious that there was a debate around tech and ethics and what the role of parliament should be. He said they initially held an event with PICTFOR to begin the work and then partnered with the with All Party Parliamentary Data Analytics Group (APGDA) to further the conversation.
He said that the Online Harms White Paper is very good, and there is more conversation to take place with more work to be done. He shared that he was delighted to contribute to this discussion and that he looks forward to further discussions.
The second speaker Lee Rowley MP, PICTFOR Officer & Co-Chair of the Parliamentary Commission on Technology Ethics, said he was struck when he entered Parliament that the debate wasn’t as robust on tech ethics issues as he expected. He highlighted that key things are changing our society and that Parliament is uniquely bad at discussing issues like this. He went on to share the recommendations from the report and noted that there were not huge ideological differences between the various parties.
The third speaker Simon McDougall, Executive Director, Technology Policy and Innovation at the ICO, shared research the ICO conducted with Ofcom on the experience of people being online. He said that they had found that there is an increasing deficit of trust, with many people not comfortable with the level of innovation and change that is happening in society. He said that developments have not always brought the public along with innovation and that acquiescence doesn’t equal trust. He went on to say that to be more ethical, business models should not be built on the mass collection of data.
The fourth speaker, Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh, Warwick Engineering student, Co-Founder of WomenWarwick and member of the Institute for the Future of Work’s Youth Steering Group, opened by introducing the work of the Institute for the Future of Work. She said that the steering group she is on looks at the future for young people and the careers they will have. She added that they are worrying that young people are often the first to engage with tech and that they are giving consent without knowing what they are doing which can result in giving their data away freely. She went on to say that the public need to be part of discussion about when, where, and why they are giving consent about their data.
The final speaker, Roger Taylor, Chair of the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, outlined the work the centre does. He explained that many people understand what is happening but don’t feel like there is anything they can do about it. He said that developments in tech ethics must be grounded in public dialogue. He said that the more public dialogue there is – with people able to express their view points – the better shape we’ll be in. Roger Taylor then asked what the incentive to change is. He then closed by appealing to companies to be more open.
Event chair Casey Calista then opened up the discussion to the attendees at the roundtable, asking them what an ethical digital world would like to them and for their thoughts on tech ethics. The main themes were as follows:
- Optimism and trust
- Balance between innovation and protection
- Industry engagement
- Inclusivity and bias
- Right to explanation
- Accountability, responsibility and liability
- International collaboration
- Impact on environment
- Surveillance capitalism
Event chair Casey Calista asked the speakers for their thoughts on what was shared during the roundtable discussion:
- Simon McDougall said that a right to explanation isn’t the same as a right to justice.
- Roger Taylor said that clicking buttons isn’t informed consent and that consent isn’t a mechanism to protect against harm.
- Darren Jones MP said that we need to look at consumer harm and there should be an onus on businesses to be accountable.
- Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh added that in higher education researchers are held to rigorous ethics reviews, noting that some big tech companies are not held to the same standards. She questioned how we best standardise and ensure policies fit seamlessly internationally too.
Event chair Casey Calista then asked the speakers about the need for human decision making and how to obtain public consent:
- Lee Rowley MP said that having worked in a bank in a change function, he noticed that it is difficult to identify specific people who are making specific decisions, making issues around decisions and data challenging. Lee ended his remarks by saying that two roles – regulation and legislation – are colliding.
- Simon McDougall said that before GDPR there was implied consent and that consent can be identified through certain actions. He questioned what will replace that as the Internet of Things and 5G expands. He added that we can’t be complacent and need to look at the gaps and opportunities around GDPR.
- Darren Jones MP said that he looks forward to future PICTFOR events in this topic.
- Roger Taylor said that there is a tension between privacy and the desire to know how systems are operating. He explained that there is a need to collectively know how other people are being treated.
- Floriane Fidegnon-Edoh said that there is a chance to restructure the policy discussion and that a public, open forum is key.
Event chair Casey Calista then thanking all speakers and attendees and formally ended the event.
If you would like further information on this topic or about PICTFOR’s programme of events, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: This document includes the minutes of the meeting. This is not an official publication of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. It has not been approved by either House or its committees. All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal groups of Members of both Houses with a common interest in particular issues. The views expressed in this report are those of the group.