6. HOME: Blockchain state of the nation
An important function of government is to maintain trusted information about individuals, organizations, assets, and activities. A November 2017 report by Reform (the independent non-party think tank) states that only "13 per cent of people trust government to use their data appropriately, while 46 per cent do not". The report asserts that current models of "identity" cause duplication and friction and suggests that blockchain could simplify the management of trusted information, making it easier for government agencies to access and use critical public-sector data while maintaining the security of this information. Some records exist only in paper form, and if changes need to be made in official registries, citizens often must appear in person to do so. Individual agencies tend to build their own silos of data and information-management protocols, which preclude other parts of the government from using them. The Reform report suggests that blockchain could enable a shift ownership of personal data from the government to the citizen and proposes a new identity management model powered by blockchain (Maisie Borrows, 2017).
The House of Lords report Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good: leadership, collaboration and innovation was written to highlight the need, and significant opportunity, for government to take a leading role in the practical testing and application of distributed ledger technologies (DLT) across the public and private sectors in the service of the UK, its businesses and its citizens. With government leadership, the report suggests, DLT can enhance government services, protect government and citizen data, and act as a platform to advance innovation in technology, such as IoT and robotics. DLT's facilitation of common business processes, based on common and authoritative reference and transaction data, provides the means to derive improved returns and efficiencies from past and future investments, including legacy systems, through enhanced interoperability. The report underpins Sir Mark Walport's recommendations, and it endorses a focus on ministerial leadership, research, standards and supporting proof of concept trials. It identifies blockchain's potential in the specific scenarios of border security, taxation and benefit, health, and privacy/cybersecurity.
Government and its arms-length bodies in the UK are evaluating blockchain: HM Land Registry's Digital Street Initiative is aiming to speed up the conveyancing process. So far, a proof of concept has created a digital register for a small selection of properties, as a first step towards having a register that is fully machine-readable and able to be updated instantly by multiple parties across different organisations (Abbott, 2018).
HMRC has built a blockchain proof of concept to coordinate interventions at the border (Evenstad, 2017): Mike Potter, Director of Future Borders at HMRC stated:
"We have now built a proof of concept based on blockchain that demonstrates that you can actually get all of the 28 organisations that act at the border to coordinate all of their risk and intervention, so we only do it once and we do it well."
HM Treasury recently invited responses using fintech to their Rent Recognition Challenge (Gov.uk, 2017). A Scottish consortium including private and social sector landlords, a Scottish Credit Union and Wallet.Services proposed a blockchain solution.
6.2 Scottish Community
Scotland holds several assets in establishing a cluster of DLT skills and innovation. The nation's banking background led to the creation of several security operations centres (SOCs) and Cyber Security expertise, fed by the Cyber Academy and others. The academic sector has strong cryptography representation with specific focus in Edinburgh, Napier and Stirling Universities. Edinburgh's position as a financial centre drove many to take an early interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
This has helped establish the growing community of computing scientists, cryptographer mathematicians, and cyber professionals with skills which can be brought to bear on DLT engineering and in applying these tools to vertical industries.
The Edinburgh Bitcoin Meetup, established in Jan 2014, has evolved to be the Scottish Blockchain Meetup with around 400 members. This event regularly attracts over 200 attendees, and world leading expert speakers. The Meetup and the annual ScotChain conference are supported by MBN Solutions of Glasgow.
Several Scottish SMEs have established capability in this field and are working on industry applications.
Wallet.Services develop solutions which streamline, simplify and secure digital life by harnessing the benefits of blockchain. As of March 2018, Wallet.Services' 12-person team includes engineering and business specialists. In 2017 Wallet.Services' work for Scottish Government during the CivTech® cybersecurity challenge was recognised with the global Citibank Technology for Integrity award, and the Scottish Cyber Awards "Best Cyber Breakthrough". Together with a consortium from the Oil and Gas sector, Wallet.Services has built a proof of concept of chain of custody/verification across the supply chain (see 7.4, below). In the rented property sector Wallet.Services has just completed a project using blockchain to collate multiple letting agent rental zone data to provide aggregated insight into the overall rental marketplace. In early 2018, Wallet. Services raised £425K in equity investment to fund development of their SICCAR secure information sharing product first prototyped with Scottish Government CivTech®.
Joining Wallet.Services in CodeBase, Edinburgh, Blockchain Technology Partners is committed to both consuming and contributing to open source (Blockchain Technology Partners, 2018). Founded by cloud pioneer Duncan Johnston-Watt, BTP provides a production ready blockchain platform and partner with businesses to deliver blockchain-based solutions which they then operate on their behalf. Their first customer is The ScotCoin Project which is the community interest company behind ScotCoin—Scotland's digital currency.
Spiritus Partners, also based in Edinburgh is building next generation service records applications for critical assets and infrastructure. In sectors such as healthcare, life sciences, energy, and power, they provide assurance that safety, security and compliance measures have been taken across the operating life of their assets through blockchain solutions (Spiritus, 2018).
Kippitech are an Aberdeen-based start-up, part of the Hyperledger project—an open source collaborative effort. They are building supply chain software for the food, energy and transportation sectors (Kippitech, 2018).
Blockchain Development Services are based in Glasgow and have a focus on developing socially and environmentally impacting services. With projects focussing on encouraging engagement with recycling and reducing waste, BDS are using blockchain for good to make a positive impact on the world (BCDC.Online, 2018).
APPII, are a Scottish-based online verification and career management platform which uses a public blockchain to store 3rd party verifications of assertions on candidate CVs.
6.3 Other Projects of Interest
Maidsafe are a Troon based company whose project dates back to 2006. Maidsafe's SAFE is a distributed storage network with improved security and privacy. SAFE has evolved to embrace cryptocurrency in a circular economy where storage consumers pay those who offer storage with Safecoin. Maidsafe have a community of over 7,000 engaged supporters around the world (Safe Network Forum, 2018). Maidsafe ran a global developer conference in April 2018 as part of their move towards launch of the full public autonomous Network.
Napier University will build on the world class reputation of the Cyber Academy to set up ABIL (Advanced Blockchain Identity Lab), based at the Edinburgh Merchiston campus and funded for three years at £600,000.
Led by Professor Bill Buchanan OBE, a key focus of the lab will be to create world-leading knowledge and innovation around areas which focus on the rights of the citizen to privacy, while enabling new methods to provide citizen-focused system. The funding includes research staff and PhD studentships.
Edinburgh University School of Informatics in February 2017 established a Blockchain Technology Laboratory (UoE, 2018). The lab brings together students and academics to focus on industry-inspired problems. Led by Professor Aggelos Kiayas, Chair in Cyber Security and Privacy at the University of Edinburgh, the Lab's multidisciplinary research scope will encompass economics, business and law. The lab is funded in partnership with IOHK (Input Output Hong Kong) a company founded to address practical issues of security resilience and performance. The Laboratory launched the EU's first blockchains and Distributed Ledgers course, and attracted £1.2m for a research project for Oxfam focussed on Smart Contracts for Donations ("Ox-chain").
The Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult hosted at the University of Strathclyde, is currently developing a blockchain pilot around digitally managing supply chains in the Oil and Gas sector, in a consortium of sector organisations together with Wallet.Services.
Email: Alexander Holt