Think tanks call for Whitehall investment in blockchain

Two reports – from Reform and Lord Holmes – flag up the transformational potential of the distributed ledger technology


PA

By Sam Trendall

29 Nov 2017

Two reports have flagged up the potential of distributed ledger technology (DLT) to help the government deliver better and more secure public services.

A report from think tank Reform found that the use of blockchain could make the digital identity programmes run by the government safer. It picks out four different approaches to digital identity, bracketed by differing amounts of user control.

The centralised approach, in which digital identity is “owned and controlled by a single entity”, offers the least user control. This is the approach taken by HMRC’s database, the report said.


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Offering slightly more user control is the federated approach, in which identities are owned and controlled by numerous, linked entities. This model is used by the GOV.UK Verify identity-assurance programme, Reform said.

A user-centric approach, as exemplified by the Estonian government’s e-ID scheme, is one in which individuals or administrators can control an identity across different authorities.

The use of blockchain would allow governments to implement an entirely “self-sovereign” approach to digital identity, wherein an individual user could own and control their identity for use across any number of different entities. This would be much more secure than individual departments using separate, centralised models of identity management, the report claimed.

“Government should use blockchain technology to make identity management more secure and efficient,” said the Reform report. “This means moving from siloed departments holding different – and even contradictory – versions of a person’s identity, to a user-stored identity, in an identity app on a smartphone.”

Reform added: “Siloed identities, held by different departments, are insecure, inefficient and inconvenient for citizens. Centralised data storage is [also] more attractive to hackers.”

A separate report from Conservative peer Lord Christopher Holmes flags up the transformational impact distributed ledger technology (DLT) – of which blockchain is the most notable example – could have on public services in areas such as policing, border control, taxation, healthcare, and government procurement.

Among the report’s recommendations are the creation of cross-department initiatives to better use DLT in delivering public services, and increasing awareness of the technology among senior and middle managers in Whitehall. It also recommends undertaking pilot programmes, and the formation of a “neutral organisation” to provide policy advice and technical expertise.

“With the right mix of leadership, collaboration and sound governance, DLT offers a step change for service delivery in both the public and private sectors,” Holmes said. “By reducing data fragmentation and enhancing traceability and accountability, DLT promises cost‐savings and efficiencies on a scale sufficient to impact national finances.”

He added: “DLT's facilitation of common business processes, based on common and authoritative reference and transaction data, provides the means to derive improved returns and efficiencies from past and future investments, including legacy systems, through enhanced interoperability.”

The Whitechapel Think Tank was another policy organisation to call for improved use of DLT in the public sector.

Chair Jeremy Wilson said: “Much of the focus on this technology to date has been around its application for banking, finance and crypto-currencies.  What this report shows is that the potential reach is far broader, fundamentally underpinning connectivity across government departments and beyond.”

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