Publication Digital Machinery of government 27 November, 2017

The future of public service identity: blockchain

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Today’s report, The future of public service identity: blockchain, demonstrates how blockchain technology could be used for identity management, shifting the ownership of personal data from government to citizens. This paper is the seventh in a series, in partnership with Accenture, looking at the role technology can play in the future delivery of public services.

The Government’s current identity management model is both inefficient and inconvenient. Government departments hold different, overlapping and sometimes contradictory versions of a person’s identity, with no system in place to ensure that there is one version of the truth (i.e. a single consolidated version of a person’s identity). When attempting to access public services, citizens often repeat the information they share with government departments, such as their address and national insurance number, even though the information might have already been given.

Blockchain technology has the potential to help deliver a better system which overcomes these issues, transforming the identity management model. Blockchain is a distributed, peer-to-peer database. It can be thought of as a network of computers which communicate with each other (hence the peer-to-peer). The data it holds is accessible to all members of the blockchain network via a shared ledger, ensuring that there is one version of the truth. As the data is visible to members of the blockchain, such as government departments, a citizen would not need to repeatedly input the same information to access public services, but merely verify their identity. Blockchain’s distributed nature would also increase the security of the data, as the current centralised system of storing data is more vulnerable to hacking.

An identity management model powered by blockchain technology would also shift the ownership of personal data from government to the individual.  This means moving from government departments holding separate versions of a person’s data, to a user-stored identity. Unlike today’s model, an individual would have access to their personal information and will be able to authorise who can see it, and in what form.

Although the technicalities of blockchain are complex, the report demonstrates how simple the proposed identity management model would be for citizens. When paying tax, claiming benefits or passing through the border, an individual could access and verify their identity through an app on a smartphone, which would be secured with biometric technology.

Blockchain technology has the potential to transform the future of identity management. By embracing this technology, the UK government will ensure that it is a digital state looking to the future.

Key takeaways

  • Blockchain has not yet reach its potential in public services – particularly for identity management.
  • The report proposes a new identity management model powered by blockchain. Blockchain can create a secure public service identity and drastically improve the experience of verifying identity to access public services. In comparison to today, when an individual has multiple identity documents, this new model would enable an individual to hold their entire identity in one place – their smartphone.
  • Citizens would prove their identity via an identity app and would be able to consent to government sharing their data, for example with health services, with just one swipe.
  • Government would codify the rules of the blockchain network into smart contracts. Smart contracts would not only ensure government departments are compliant with data protections but also allow government databases to be accurate and up-to-date.
  • This new identity management model would change the relationship between the citizen and state whereby the citizen would become the controller of their identity and government the verifier.