The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) is investigating the use of artificial intelligence software to streamline some of its operations.
While ruling out the use of controversial technology application ChatGPT, ACNC Information and Technology director Rob Jackson confirmed the regulator is studying other machine learning programs it believes could prove useful in certain circumstances.
“The ACNC reviews a small sample of the financial reports that are submitted to the Charity Register and that’s something that we would really like to increase the sample size of,” he said.
“There are some artificial intelligence and machine learning programs … that we would like to leverage in order to do that and that will just really streamline the review process for these documents.”
Mr Jackson was speaking at the recent ACNC Regulators Day event in Melbourne during which he outlined significant new work in progress, including:
- The release of a new three year corporate plan – the first under Commissioner Sue Woodward - articulating the ACNC’s purpose, vision and activities.
- Updated ACNC strategic priorities: Charity Register; supporting charities and building capability, using data to maximum effect; organisational capacity.
- The introduction of new performance measures that better reflect the breadth of work carried out by the ACNC.
- Considering multi-factor authentication to help combat cybercrime.
Commenting on moves to harness the power of AI, Mr Jackson said the ACNC was exploring the potential of a new Microsoft tool called Co Pilot.
Unlike ChatGPT, which Mr Jackson said the ACNC did not use as a result of information security concerns, Co Pilot was housed within the regulator’s existing software “ecosystem”.
“It's got the benefits of ChatGPT, but it’s private (and) behind a firewall,” he said.
“So, that’s a pretty exciting piece of work that we are kicking off at the moment. And, if that’s successful and we can push ahead with it, I think there’s also some opportunity to build some of those learnings and also some of our capability that’s switched on and apply that to other processes and streamline some of our staff time.”
ACNC advice services, education and public affairs director Rachel Smith said the regulator is aiming to begin publishing de-identified charity registration decisions in October.
The move is in line with related federal legislative changes designed to remove some secrecy provisions that prevent the ACNC from disclosing details of investigations.
While the regulator could not act in relation to lifting the veil of secrecy until details of the legislation were known, she said it had begun preparing for the deidentification changes.
That included recruiting new staff, working on the specifications for the online library to house decisions, and reviewing policies and procedures to support the work.
“I’m hoping that we will be ready to start pushing some of those (deidentification decisions) out sometime in October.”
Mr Jackson said the ACNC was looking at introducing multi-factor authentication (MFA) in its Charity Portal as part of its strategy to combat cybercrime.
He said the regulator had been using MFA which he described as “a really effective tool” - internally for years, but the time had come to look at applying it outside the organization with many people now comfortable using it for applications such as online banking.
He said MFA would not be introduced without extensive consultation.
“There are obviously different ways you can do multi-factor authentication – via email or text message - so we want to get the settings right before we do that just to make sure we don’t cause to much disruption.”
Mr Jackson also said he had been lobbying the Australian Cyber Security Centre to provide more charity-specific resources.
“I've been in their ear for a while now to get some better offerings for the charity sector … I do know that in early 2024 they’re doing some targeted campaigns directly at charities, so I think there might be more to come about that.”
Educating the sector
The hard work the ACNC has put into educating charities to meet their compliance regulations also appears to be paying off.
ACNC registration director Sallyann Stonier said the number of charities requiring assistance to be compliant had fallen from just over half in 2020 to 24% in 2022 and 14% this year.
“That is, I think, a tremendous improvement and tells us … that we're actually getting out there to help the charities understand what we're doing.”