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Sweden’s land registry authority, Lantmäteriet, has put blockchain’s promises of transparent and tamper-proof transaction records to the test by implementing a pilot system for recording property-related transactions.
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The blockchain-based testbed, which concluded in March, followed Lantmäteriet’s proof-of-concept study in 2016.
“When we heard about blockchain and its supposed benefits, we wanted to explore whether this is an actual next-generation technology we could use for registries,” Mats Snäll, Lantmäteriet’s head of development, told Computer Weekly.
The technology for the project was developed by Swedish blockchain startup ChromaWay using a private blockchain – which only authorised parties can access – and a smart contract application to automatically manage the transactions recorded on the blockchain.
This means copies of the records are held by Lantmäteriet and other parties, such as banks and real estate agents, and each step in the property purchase process is verified and recorded on the blockchain for all parties to see. The idea is that the buyer and seller could in future use a mobile app, for example, to digitally sign a bill of sale.
The pilot was conducted in close collaboration with telecoms provider Telia, consultancy group Kairos Future and two banks, SBAB and Landshypotek.
Snäll described the testbed as a small-scale pilot, but said it proved the system works. “Of course, we have to try it on a wider scale and have more partners to see it also works with a larger number of transactions, but we haven’t come up against anything so far that argues against this technology.”
Lantmäteriet believes using blockchain could eventually cut the time taken for writing a purchasing contract through to registering a property title from four months to a few days. The land registry authority reckons blockchain technology could save Swedish taxpayers more than €100m a year through faster transactions, better redundancy of data, eliminating paper processes and, crucially, greater security.
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“It is the only current technology that really offers a good and secure way to have digital originals,” said Snäll. “It is also the best technology so far that has proved to be secure from being hacked and corrupted.”
Lantmäteriet will decide the timetable for its expanded testbed in the coming months. It plans to involve more partners, such as real estate agents and government authorities, to test wide-ranging external integration with the blockchain platform.
Sweden is not the only country looking to use blockchain to digitalise title deeds and reduce the risk of property fraud. In Honduras, hopes are high that blockchain will help weed out corruption with tamper-proof land titles and in Georgia, the government has worked with blockchain startup BitFury to implement a blockchain-based system for land registries.
But Snäll believes it will take more time to solve issues such as the network governance and regulatory questions involved in large-scale blockchain implementations. So Swedes will not be switching their property contracts to a blockchain just yet.
“Every time I say something, it always takes a little bit longer,” said Snäll. “But I think from 2020 we will start to see [commercial] blockchain solutions in real estate agencies.”