The government has highlighted the potential for blockchain technology to aid digital transformation by changing the way data is recorded across Whitehall.
Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock explained that blockchains, the technology behind distributed and shared ledgers, could provide the digital tools for building trust in the data held by the government.
"Rather than a single central authority demanding trust and declaring: 'I say this data is correct,' you have the distributed consensus of everyone in the chain saying in unison: 'We agree that this data is correct,'” he said in a speech at London’s Digital Catapult.
“They bring with them built-in integrity and immutability. You can only write new data. Nothing is ever removed or deleted.”
However, Hancock added that using the technology, which supports crypto-currencies such as bitcoin, is not a fool-proof way to solve every data problem in Whitehall.
“Blockchain technology is not going to solve every problem, or work in every context. When a trusted body already exists, for example, that can hold canonical data, that’s often the best solution," he said.
“But the fact that data held in the blockchain comes with its own history, and that history is a fundamental part of proving its integrity, this fact is enormously powerful.”
But he added that the government is looking at putting the technology to use already.
“We’re exploring the use of a blockchain to manage the distribution of grants. Monitoring and controlling the use of grants is incredibly complex. A blockchain, accessible to all the parties involved, might be a better way of solving that problem,” he said.
Hancock pointed out that bitcoin's use of distributed ledgers proves that digital currency can be tracked when it's passed from one entity to another, and could even be put to use by the Student Loans Company to track loan payments from the Treasury to a student’s account.
Hancock’s speech shows that the government is paying attention to blockchain technology for data management.
Having a single distributed ledger to manage data across government is in effect doing more with less, falling under the ambition to create government-as-a-platform, whereby digital public services are created from common components rather than built as separate bespoke systems.
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