Ethics-Based Auditing of Automated Decision-Making Systems: Intervention Points and Policy Implications

by   Jakob Mokander, et al.

Organisations increasingly use automated decision-making systems (ADMS) to inform decisions that affect humans and their environment. While the use of ADMS can improve the accuracy and efficiency of decision-making processes, it is also coupled with ethical challenges. Unfortunately, the governance mechanisms currently used to oversee human decision-making often fail when applied to ADMS. In previous work, we proposed that ethics-based auditing (EBA), i.e. a structured process by which ADMS are assessed for consistency with relevant principles or norms, can (a) help organisations verify claims about their ADMS and (b) provide decision-subjects with justifications for the outputs produced by ADMS. In this article, we outline the conditions under which EBA procedures can be feasible and effective in practice. First, we argue that EBA is best understood as a 'soft' yet 'formal' governance mechanism. This implies that the main responsibility of auditors should be to spark ethical deliberation at key intervention points throughout the software development process and ensure that there is sufficient documentation to respond to potential inquiries. Second, we frame ADMS as parts of larger socio-technical systems to demonstrate that to be feasible and effective, EBA procedures must link to intervention points that span all levels of organisational governance and all phases of the software lifecycle. The main function of EBA should therefore be to inform, formalise, assess, and interlink existing governance structures. Finally, we discuss the policy implications of our findings. To support the emergence of feasible and effective EBA procedures, policymakers and regulators could provide standardised reporting formats, facilitate knowledge exchange, provide guidance on how to resolve normative tensions, and create an independent body to oversee EBA of ADMS.


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