The UK government is exploring the use of blockchain technology in a bid to improve the transparency and accuracy of its record keeping.

In a post on the blog of the Government Digital Service, a unit of the UK Cabinet Office, technical architect Paul Downey explains that his team has been examining registers – how they are currently formatted and managed, and how they could potentially be improved through the use of a blockchain.

The post details the different types of register that are currently maintained by the government, including open, closed and private registers. It continues:

“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at a large number of such lists, and what’s become apparent is that they’re all held and maintained quite differently. That causes problems.”

One such problem is the delay that exists between a change being made to data on a register and that change being made available to users of the service. This exists with registers that cannot be accessed directly through an API.

Data integrity

Downey goes on to say that a more important issue is that of data integrity, which relies upon each register having a reliable registrar and method of recording and updating the data in question.

The perfect register “should be able to prove the data hasn’t been tampered with” and should store a history of the changes that have been made, plus “be open to independent scrutiny”, he argues.

In response to a comment on the post questioning how government-issued licences, certificates and other documents could be stored to assist should there be discrepancies over the data in the record, Downey suggests that blockchain technology could, potentially, provide a solution. 

“We are aware of how protocols such as the blockchain demonstrate how proofs could be distributed,” he writes.

However, Downey concedes this is just one of a number of different models his team has started to explore with the aim of increasing “the trust in integrity of record”.

An entry in a basic register prototype created by the Government Digital Service

Thought leading

The proposal has drawn initial support from some corners of the digital currency community in the UK.

A spokesperson for the UK Digital Currency Association lauded the government’s initiative in exploring such concepts. They went on to say there is “no better way” to deliver a public register than through a blockchain. These can be used to transparently record public lists of data, “from land registries to licensed pub landlords”.

The spokesperson concluded:

“In the developing world, the blockchain is a necessity to regularise title and ownership; in the developed, it is all about efficiency and ease of access.”

Archives image via Shutterstock

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