Minister flags up blockchain potential for government

Matt Hancock emphasises potential of distributed ledger technology to provide transparency in data – and to support legal processes

Digital Secretary Matt Hancock has pointed to the potential for distributed ledger technology – better known as blockchain – to make government services more efficient.

Links in metal chainSpeaking at the Law Society, he said it could it provide major benefits for public services, along with those it offers to the legal and financial services sectors.

“Governments who embrace emerging technologies, such as blockchain, are the ones who will thrive in the decades ahead,” he said.

“There is wide interest across government in deploying blockchain to tackle a wide range of issues, including from Defra, the Ministry of Justice, DFID, HMRC and BEIS.”

Hancock pointed out that the Government’s Digital Strategy, published in March of last year, included a commitment to trial technologies such as blockchain; and that it has invested around £10 million through Innovate UK and research councils to support relevant projects.

“Blockchain can give users more transparency about their data,” he said. “There is the opportunity for users of government services to be able to control access to their personal records and know who has accessed them.”

Legal uses

He said that in the legal sector there are many potential uses, such as creating smart contracts, protecting intellectual property and fighting money laundering.

“If we develop the right frameworks for lawtech, this could lead to reduced legal costs and better ease of access for those wanting to use legal services,” he said.

Hancock added that the Government needs to think about frameworks that allow blockchain to develop. Just as the internet is not governed entirely by individual nations or corporations, it is unlikely that there will ever be a uniform governance model for blockchain technology.

“Where technologies rub up against regulatory barriers, we want our regulators to be alert and responsive and supporting the deployment of new technology where there are obvious benefits,” he said.

“We know the ever increasing pace of innovation places pressure on regulators to respond faster. I want our regulators to carry out their essential roles - preventing harm, providing certainty to businesses and trust to citizens - without stifling innovation.”

He also praised the Law Society for publishing a report on blockchain last year, and the Law Commission for looking at it in the programme of law reform. The latter will see how smart contracts can be used in the legal system and what the implications of blockchain are for data protection.

Image by Toni Lozano, CC BY 2.0 through flickr