The government should adopt the technology behind the bitcoin crypto-currency in order to transform the delivery of public services and boost productivity, the UK’s chief scientific adviser has claimed.
Sir Mark Walport outlined his recommendations in a new report titled ‘Distributed ledger technology: beyond block chain,’ which examines how distributed ledger technology can revolutionise services, both in government and the private sector.
Distributed ledgers are databases that can securely record financial, physical or electronic assets for sharing across a network, with blockchain, the technology that underpins bitcoin the most well-known incarnation of the technology.
According to the report, the ledger technology could provide the government with tools capable of reducing fraud, errors and the cost of using paper.
“Distributed ledger technology has the potential to transform the delivery of public and private services. It has the potential to redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust and make a leading contribution to the government’s digital transformation plan,” said Sir Mark Walport.
“Any new technology creates challenges, but with the right mix of leadership, collaboration and sound governance, distributed ledgers could yield significant benefits for the UK,” he added.
The report recommends the government trials the use of distributed ledgers and suggests it could be used to help manage processes such as tax collection, benefits and the issuing of passports.
As Computing’s John Leonard explained in a recent feature on blockchain, “Everyone can write to it and no one can delete from it. The bitcoin blockchain is a record of every single bitcoin transaction ever performed. As more transactions occur, so it grows. And grows. And grows.”
Walport suggests that the government should provide “ministerial leadership” on blockchain to provide “the vision, leadership and the platform for distributed ledger technology within government”.
The report also suggests that the UK research community should invest in the research required to ensure that distributed ledgers are scalable, secure and provide proof of correctness of their contents.
Minister for culture and the digital economy Ed Vaizey welcomed the suggestion that the use of blockchain in the public sector should be examined.
“Government wants to make sure the UK is at the forefront of using emerging technology to improve public services,” he said.
“The UK is well-placed to realise the full potential of this technology, and Sir Mark’s report clearly sets out how we can use these new tools to transform and streamline their delivery,” Vaizey added.
However, despite enthusiasm from the government for bitcoin and other emerging technologies, it has previously been warned the UK will suffer an ‘exodus’ of technology companies if the Investigatory Powers Bill – known as Snooper’s Charter to critics – is passed.