The move builds on several others the agency recently made in pursuit of modernization.
The Homeland Security Department tapped one U.S.-based and four international blockchain companies to explore the emerging, record-keeping technology’s potential to help refresh how the agency conducts operations.
The five startups were selected to receive phase I awards amounting to more than $800,000 collectively through the DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program, or SVIP. Their work could eventually lead to the potential production of a Social Security number alternative that won’t divulge personally identifiable information, extend the agency and its subcomponents’ visibility into multiple supply chains—and more.
Homeland Security leverages SVIP to invest in technological solutions that can be rapidly prototyped, and holds promise to modernize its own capabilities. Blockchain is a contemporary technology that tracks, records and authenticates information and transactions. Recognizing the burgeoning tech’s potential to transform its internal pursuits, the department launched a “Preventing Forgery and Counterfeiting of Certificates and Licenses” solicitation in 2018 calling for relevant blockchain-driven solutions to meet its mission calls. Businesses were chosen to participate following that inquiry—and the agency last year put forth a re-release of that solicitation, pinpointing five more blockchain-centered use cases across Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the DHS Privacy Office.
The awards unveiled this week were selected through that follow-on solicitation.
“This was a very competitive solicitation with more than 80 applicants from across the globe with diverse perspectives and approaches to solving the variety of problem sets we shared in our solicitation,” SVIP Technical Director Anil John said in a statement, adding that those chosen, “proposed innovative solutions to the problems,” presented by DHS and “provided concrete plans to commercialize their final solutions.”
While three of the selected startups will be joining DHS’ portfolio for the first time, two Toronto, Canada-based businesses are already considered current SVIP-portfolio partners. Those include Mavennet Systems, Inc., which will now work to enhance how CBP digitally traces natural gas supply chains between Canada and America, according to DHS’ release, and SecureKey Technologies, which will “develop an alternative identifier to the Social Security Number” to support the department’s SSN Collection and Use Reduction initiative.
“The solution would allow a globally unique, meaningless and verifiable identifier to be issued to individuals,” according to DHS. “This number would not reveal personally identifiable information and could not be reused for cross tracking or as a shared secret.”
A woman-owned business based in Auckland, New Zealand and named MATTR Limited will receive $200,000—the most individually of those selected—to create a blockchain-driven capability through which USCIS can “digitally issue and validate essential work and task licenses.” It’s a need that the announcement notes has been “amplified” by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Germany-based startup Spherity GmbH was also selected this round, and intends to adapt existing technology to advance how CBP tracks e-commerce shipments from their purchase points to when they reach consumers. And Mesur IO, Inc. of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was also picked to support CBP. The company will gain more than $193,000 to help heighten the agency’s view into food supply chains “by enhancing visibility from farm to point of purchase.”