Government officials around the world are working to boost blockchain as a way to provide more transparent and efficient public services.

One of the latest is Eddie Hughes, a Conservative member of the British Parliament, who wrote in a recent report that blockchain could instill greater faith in government institutions. Hughes wants Prime Minister Theresa May and the rest of the country’s leadership to prioritize using the technology, especially in the nation’s aging National Health Service.

Other countries are already doing the same. Marloes Pomp, the head of blockchain programs in the Netherlands, has been testing the use of blockchain in logistics, autonomous vehicles and identity verification. The South Korean government is investing 10 billion won (US$9 million) to apply the technology to processes including customs clearing, online voting and real estate transactions. In the U.S., a group of Illinois state and county agencies are working on the Illinois Blockchain Initiative, which wants to explore the use of blockchain in government services.

Sarah Grace Manski, a Ph.D candidate who studies blockchain technology at the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Department of Global Studies, tells ThirtyK blockchain can offer governments multiple benefits including reducing fraud and increasing collaboration among agencies by automating accounting, verification and contract fulfillment.

“Moreover, the adoption of blockchain may also allow government agencies to provide new value-added services to businesses and others which can generate new sources of revenue for these agencies,” Manski says.

Declining Trust 

Hughes, the U.K. politician, authored his blockchain report in collaboration with Freer, an initiative of the Institute of Economic Affairs, which promotes free-market economics. Although his paper focuses on several issues, trust is the primary one. Hughes said trust in the U.K. government has been declining since the 2008 financial crisis.

According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 36 percent of surveyed U.K. citizens said they trust government. Nearly half of respondents said the government is broken, and 40 percent said it abuses power more than any other pillar of society.

Distrust is now the default position,” said Will Walden, head of government relations at Edelman U.K. in the report.

One of the most notable findings in the Edelman report was that nearly 79 percent of respondents don’t think the National Health Service will be able to provide care for the aging and growing population. Like many government bureaucracies, the NHS has been slow to adopt digital but is moving in that direction in some areas.
Rebuilding Trust With Blockchain

Hughes, in his report, wants to implement a new platform of transparent checks and balances by moving data from behind firewalls to a more public system that increases accountability and gives citizens more control over their personal data.

Citizens should be able to own, see, hold and control the use of their own data,” Hughes said in his report.

The ability to use blockchain to automate accounting, verification and contract fulfillment does offer the potential to reduce fraud, Manski says.

Manski points to a 2017 report by the American Council for Technology that blockchain technology could help the U.S. federal government improve governance and increase efficiency and transparency.

Although a number of British agencies, including Revenue and Customs, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and the Treasury Committee, have been expressing interest, it’s time to “act with a sense of urgency,” Hughes said. He called for Britain to focus on blockchain initiatives that “enable social freedom, on cutting the costs of economic activity, and on rebuilding societal trust of the common good.” To that end Hughes would like the government to create a “Chief Blockchain Officer” position. 

He said using blockchain for public NHS records would remove administrative burdens. Health care outcome would be improved because artificial intelligence could be used to analyze data, seeking health patterns or problems to flag for doctors. Blockchain can also be used in banking and in protecting the country’s food supply chain.

As with most new things, however, there are some perceived risks. Blockchain could offer great potential for the public good, Manski says, but there are those who think the government would also use the technology to invade privacy by increasing monitoring and surveillance.

“Technology tends in every way to reinforce existing systems of oppression,” Manski says. Therefore, technology alone will never be a solution to a social problem.

Craig Guillot
Craig Guillot is a business writer who specializes in tech, retail and supply chain. He is a regular contributor to Chief Executive Magazine, STORES Magazine (National Retail Federation) and Supply Chain Dive.