Hundreds of thousands of Australians have been seriously distressed, some to the point of suicide, by the actions of a small cluster of ICT people.
A system like ‘robodebt’ involves systems analysts and designers, solution architects, data wranglers and engineers, software engineers, ICT governance people, cyber security experts and ICT project managers – all ICT ‘professionals’.
'Primacy of the Public Interest' is the first value in the ACS Code of Professional Conduct.
'The Enhancement of Quality of Life' is the second.
Members of the robodebt ICT cluster seem to have failed utterly to meet these qualities of professional conduct.
'Competence' is a value in the ACS Code.
What competent data scientist or software engineer could possibly build a system including this: "rather than using the recipients’ actual in income in the fortnights for which benefits had been paid, Centrelink calculated an average fortnightly income over a longer period which often included fortnights they were in paid employment and not receiving Centrelink benefits."
Paradoxically, in the process of damaging hundreds of thousands of citizens, the cluster also damaged the integrity of Australian Public Service, the government it is supposed to serve and themselves.
I wonder how many of the ICT people involved in robodebt will be highlighting that on their CV?
There seems to be only two ways that ICT catastrophes be confronted.
One is organisational – having, as part of ICT governance, an effective integrity system which conducts ethical impact evaluations of ICT.
The other is personal professionalism – caring about the effects of your actions and taking personal, professional responsibility.
Excuses for failing to act professionally can include: I was just doing what I was told.. I had no idea that could happen.. I tried to tell them.. I had a minor role.. I'd have caused trouble if I'd spoken up...
ACS can help.
We have an ethics advisory service for strictly confidential discussion of a professional situation you may find yourself in.
Yes, calling out wrongdoing is very hard.
But look what happens if you don't.
Craig McDonald is a Fellow of ACS and Emeritus Professor of Informatics at the University of Canberra.