Automated (Un)accountability

How Algorithms Will Take Government Responsibility Away

17 March 2022

Krzysztof Izdebski

Marcin Król Fellow

Computer systems that check whether we throw away our rubbish properly, enrol our children in kindergartens or elect judges also seem to serve officials as an excuse to wash their hands. It is no longer politicians who are supposed to be responsible for carrying out public tasks. In cases of failure, the blame is put on the ‘computer.’ 

As we reflect on the lack of transparency and accountability of politicians, they are already putting ICT systems in place to make this even more difficult. Do you remember Carol Beer from the TV series ‘Little Britain?’ That is the character playing the clerk who, after vigorously tapping on the keyboard and a quick glance at the screen, would reply: computer says no! Undoubtedly, apart from the many positive phenomena brought about by the algorithms and the digitalisation of the public sphere, this is also a convenient escape from official responsibility. 

Much worse if IT decision-making systems including those based on Artificial Intelligence technology are actually involved in warfare, or are used openly by politicians against groups of people. We can imagine that those accused of war crimes will dilute their responsibility by blaming the equipment. What we do know for sure is that AI has already arrived on the Ukrainian battlefield, inflamed by Russia.

And just as practically everyone is now permanently connected to the internet, throughout Europe, including Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), ICT systems are slowly beginning to make decisions that affect the rights and obligations of its citizens, and not just in terms of state-citizen relations. Algorithms decide what music you listen to, what films you watch or what information will be the first to appear before your eyes on your favourite social media platform. Finally, it is algorithms that will choose, from hundreds of thousands of pages, which search results you will find first. 

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Krzysztof Izdebski

Marcin Król Fellow

Marcin Król Fellow 2021/2022 at Visegrad Insight and an expert at the Open Contracting Partnership and Stefan Batory Foundation. Member of Consul Democracy Foundation’s Council. He is a lawyer specialized in access to public information and re-use of public sector information. He is the author of publications on freedom of information, technology, public administration, corruption, and public participation. Dziennik Gazeta Prawna listed him as one of the 50 most influential Polish lawyers in 2020.

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