Tribune – Blockchain in the public debate

Announcing the end of the blockchain in the turmoil of cryptocurrencies is forgetting that the blockchain carries concrete applications that will guarantee its continued development.

While many are closely following the fall in the price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, preachers are announcing the end of blockchain technology, mirroring the larks, which would be on the verge of extinction. It is forgotten that the blockchain carries concrete applications which guarantee the continuation of its development while the movements of cryptocurrencies are as unpredictable as other stock prices.

Other speakers raised the threat that blockchain would pose to public institutions. These completely miss the many opportunities that blockchain brings for our governments and for democratic activity, even in crucial areas like taxes and the control of public money.
Public services are already impacted at the local level to organize bike sharing in the canton of Zug in Switzerland or to improve data sharing in waste management in Utrecht in the Netherlands. Central-level initiatives will follow and they will be far-reaching.

Contrary to the accusations so often repeated, blockchain will not end governments, any more than the internet has. Blockchain is a powerful vector for bringing together public services and citizens.

Possible applications of blockchain technology for a government: tax collection and identity management

The blockchain as introduced with Bitcoin allows a peer-to-peer electronic payment system where all types of assets can now be registered and managed. In addition to management, blockchain enables the application of regulations in an immutable and instantaneous manner. Over the next few years we will see more and more cooperation and interoperability for all economic players. This is the long-awaited breakthrough of a world where registration is too often based on paper format and siled electronic registration systems.

A particularly relevant application is that of tax collection. With smart contracts, it is possible to create payment distribution conditions automatically in real time, without the costs associated with the back office.
The collection of VAT can therefore be done immediately and be accompanied by the transparency of the chronological recording provided by the blockchain. This transparency allows citizens and public accountants to precisely track the allocation of public spending.

Digital identity is also another example of concrete application of the blockchain as it renews the approach to this major issue for national and individual sovereignty. Government agencies that have switched to a digital identification system have faced challenges in protecting access to the corresponding registers.

At the same time, private initiatives have developed to facilitate the authentication of individuals in various online services. It is now much more widespread and easier to authenticate with Facebook, Google, Twitter etc. than with France Connect, but in the process, users’ personal data is almost systematically sacrificed.

The uPort blockchain project in particular is providing a radical response to this problem. The blockchain makes it possible to generate a unique identifier dedicated to a service with a single click and to have a certificate from a trusted third party such as a government authority on the characteristics necessary to access the service. Thus, in the spirit of the GDPR, an application which would need to verify the majority of a user will have to be satisfied with the corresponding certificate without collecting in passing the place of residence or even the marital status.

The notion of government is still relevant with blockchain

The work carried out by the European Blockchain Observatory and Forum shows that it is more intended to transform and decentralize governments than to replace them. Citizens want and need public services whether they are sovereign or not, there is no debate on this. The blockchain is the carrier of innovations to improve the way in which these services are provided to citizens, among other things through more direct governance.

When ConsenSys meets with government authorities, the questions that always come up are “what is the right policy to put in place?” Are we going to encourage or hinder innovation with such and such measures? “. These questions are fundamental and are reminiscent of those which arose at the dawn of the Internet.

In France, the Théry report of 1994 on the future of the information superhighways attempted to analyze the role that the Internet would play. The Internet then appeared to be unsuited to the provision of commercial services due to its cooperative mode of operation and its wide openness to all types of users. Consequently, priority has been given to the development of the national Minitel network.

Today, France seems to be truly committed to a proactive approach to blockchain with a balance between potential for innovation and growth while protecting consumers. We should also be pleased that French blockchain know-how is already internationally recognized with companies such as iExec for cloud computing and Ledger for highly secure blockchain wallets.

It is time to move beyond the amalgamations between blockchain technology and the price of cryptocurrencies. We cannot judge the blockchain by the yardstick of the sentiment of speculators because it carries a very large paradigm shift.
The concrete business applications are already there and the echo within governments is starting to be heard.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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