Government urged to use digital ledgers

A range of government departments could benefit from blockchains, the chief scientific adviser has saidImage copyright
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A range of government departments could benefit from blockchains, the chief scientific adviser has said

The UK’s chief scientific adviser has urged the government to adopt the technology that powers crypto-currency Bitcoin to run various public services.

Bitcoins are powered by blockchains – digital ledgers that record information from Bitcoin transactions to DNA.

Sir Mark Walport has argued that they could be used by government departments as a more secure way of managing data.

They could be used to help with tax collection, benefits or the issuing of passports, he has said.

Blockchains consist of “blocks” of data in a digital ledger.

Copies of these ledgers are shared by all the computers that access them, meaning they are distributed across the network.

Because blockchains act as permanent records of every time that data is added to them, they are thought to be highly resistant to malicious tampering.

Sir Mark’s recommendation comes in the form of a new report which advocates the use of blockchains for a variety of services.

Tax records

“Distributed ledger technologies have the potential to help governments to collect taxes, deliver benefits, issue passports, record land registries, assure the supply chain of goods and generally ensure the integrity of government records and services,” the report says.

“In the NHS, the technology offers the potential to improve health care by improving and authenticating the delivery of services and by sharing records securely, according to exact rules.”

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Sir Mark Walport has said blockchains could be used to help with tax collection, among other areas of government

Sir Mark added that existing approaches to data management in government departments typically involved large centralised systems with “a high cost single point of failure”.

These systems may also be more vulnerable to hacking or errors, he wrote.

The British government should begin trials of blockchain technology to see how usable it is, the report says.

Some countries have already taken the step.

Texas-based firm Factom announced last year that it was working with Honduras to build a blockchain record of land registry titles.

The report notes another example, Estonia, which already uses distributed ledger technology for citizens to check the integrity of their records on government databases.

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