Can Blockchain Finally Bring a Centralized Source of Truth to Government?

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Blockchain offers a future devoid of third-party intervention and a worldwide ecosystem of secure, easily-accessible information.

The public sector doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to adopting new technology.

But government and agency leaders large and small aren’t going to tackle the problems that have plagued them for years by maintaining the status quo. Putting bandages on legacy systems and broken processes simply aren’t going to cut it anymore, especially in an age where tech advancements in the private sector have wildly increased the expectations of the average consumer. With almost any good or service a click away, it is essential for public sector leaders to consider how they can better serve their constituents.

In order to solve for issues like unnecessary bureaucracy, lack of transparency and even corruption within its ranks, leaders need to commit to instituting a central source of truth—and blockchain may be their best bet.

A Quick Blockchain Primer

At its most basic, blockchain is a modernized system of agreement between two parties. Information is referred to as a “record”—common public sector examples can be property data, birth certificates, census documents or any other information vital to keeping government running smoothly. Each record is assigned a “fingerprint”—more technically known as a hash—that changes each time a record is updated or altered in any way.

While blockchain technology is most commonly known as the backbone of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, it is the technology's ability to create a central source of truth that has the ability to create major change in the public sector. As a decentralized system for managing information, blockchain offers a future devoid of third-party intervention and a worldwide ecosystem of secure, easily-accessible information.

A Glimpse of Future Government and Blockchain

Public sector leaders, particularly those familiar with the inner-workings of their agencies’ IT infrastructure, know that implementing new technology solutions can be a challenge. Too often, though, these hurdles can seem insurmountable and prevent real opportunity from being discovered. But the benefits blockchain can bring are too great to ignore, especially with specific pain points that have been present in the public sector for ages.

Bringing Clarity to Ownership Disputes

An agreed-upon record of who owns what property within a particular jurisdiction sounds simple enough, but history shows it is quite the opposite. Our vehicles, homes and even our businesses are property we own which have records maintained by government entities. When these records are unreliable, inaccessible or otherwise compromised in any way, a host of complications can occur.

Land disputes are a prime example. Conflicts over land ownership have been a problem local government and courts have grappled with for millennia. A proper and legitimate record has been elusive for ages but has become increasingly difficult in the modern era, where an increasing amount of agencies and entities may need to access a record or request use of a piece of land. But with a transparent and tamper-proof record of all land ownership for all constituents, it becomes impossible for an individual or organization to claim a piece of property that is not their own. Additionally, when property ownership is so easily able to be determined, processes like permitting, zoning changes and variances can be significantly expedited.

Creating a More Open and Transparent Government

The concept of a Freedom of Information Act request shouldn’t be anything new to a public sector leader—in fact, the term likely brings a sense of dread. This isn’t because leaders don’t want a more transparent government, however. It is because these requests often take a significant amount employee of time tracking down and producing records. Many times, FOIA requests are slowed because it is difficult to find the most up-to-date record or to track the custody of a particular document.

Blockchain can significantly improve this process. With documents that are managed in the blockchain, finding and confirming the documents contain the correct information is far simpler and expeditious. When these documents can be produced to the public quicker and more accurately, a greater sense of trust can be built, and the risk of fines or penalties for not appropriately responding to these requests is eliminated.

Cracking Down on Corruption and Bad Actors

A central source of truth that is provided by data kept in the blockchain is bad news for corrupt individuals. Shady deals and power-grabs often occur “under-the-table,” making it possible for those with nefarious intentions to operate. However, the blockchain can make things far more difficult.

Local politics is often a classic example of corrupt activity. In Chicago, for example, local elections are so notorious for bad practices that the saying “vote early, vote often” is almost universally known. Even as recently as the city’s current mayoral race, allegations of fraud and deceit have been rampant—in this case, because signatures on nominating petitions are so difficult to verify.

Blockchain eliminates situations like this. When signatures can be instantly verified—and petitions are digitized as opposed to on paper—disputes over the legitimacy of a candidate’s efforts to get on the ballot are rendered obsolete. And this is merely one example of how blockchain can revolutionize the voting process. Everything from voter identification to actually casting a ballot can be aided by implementing blockchain, making it far more difficult for elections to be influenced by bad actors.

If public sector leaders want to commit to fixing problems that challenge their organizations and frustrate their constituents, they must be open to considering new ideas. Blockchain holds a real promise for creating the central source of truth these organizations have lacked for so long, and in the long run, investing into the time and resources toward adopting the technology will pay dividends.

Erik Severinghaus is assistant vice president for Systems Integrators & Global Partner Solutions for DocuSign.