IN DEPTH: Beyond the hype, can the government exploit Blockchain in the same way as other industries such as banking and insurance?
When it comes to technology trends, the UK government can seem like the odd person at a party trying to fit in; pretends to have something in common with its peers, wants to sound like it’s ‘hip’ or ‘cool’ and once it leaves the party, it has no intention of following through on anything that has been said.
And so when it came to the hype surrounding Blockchain, the government was quick to state that it was exploring the use of the technology, with its chief scientific advisor Sir Mark Walport arguing that using it would heighten trust in government held data.
What is Blockchain?
Blockchain is known by most as the technology underpinning the Bitcoin digital currency.
It is a data structure which enables an organisation to create a digital ledger of transactions and share it among a distributed network of computers.
Because the data structure uses cryptography, it is highly secure without the need for a central authority, and because each request to add to the Blockchain needs to be verified through algorithms which check whether a transaction follows the existing Blockchain’s history, it is extremely difficult to alter or manipulate.
Whether or not the UK government will be able to exploit the technology remains to be seen, but other governments have already been using the technology,
These include the Isle of Man, which is using the digital proof of identity required for Blockchain to make the gaming industry more resilient to fraud and money laundering, and Estonia, which deployed a Blockchain-based system to secure over one million of its patients’ healthcare records, after an e-residency programme also based on Blockchain technology was launched as a
In August, the UK government unveiled a blockchain-as-a-service offering that would be available through the GDS Digital Marketplace on G-Cloud 8. The service, provided by UKCloud and Credits, charges £99 per instance and has already been trialed by the government of the Isle of Man, which used it to launch a custom registry.
According to 451 Research’s Carl Lehmann, the main benefit to government of Blockchain is to synchronise data about citizens across multiple departments.
“Most citizens do business with a variety of departments from when they’re born until they die, and most of these departments have information about citizens in different systems; some of that data is the same, some of it changes and is different, and much of it isn’t compatible with other government systems.
“So if government departments got together and agreed that the exchange of information about citizens should be done over a Blockchain, then all of the data becomes homogeneous,” he says.
This could help in instances where people want to get a passport or drivers’ licence – improving efficiency of those public sector workers involved, and can help with other areas such as revenue collection and handling evidence by law enforcement.
How can Blockchain change public services? Find out on page 2…