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Blockchain could be used for citizen identity services, says Reform

Reform think tank argues that government could use blockchain technology to create a secure identity for citizens to use across public services

Government should use blockchain technology for identity assurance services across the public sector, according to think tank Reform.

A report by the think tank said the government needs a new approach to identity, adding that it needs to be “one which is secure, efficient and puts the individual at the centre of identity management”. “Blockchain offers this,” it said.

The think tanks argues the government’s already existing identity assurance platform Gov.uk Verify, which lets citizens choose from a series of authorised companies to verify their identity, has “limits” with low uptake and departmerns such as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) continues to use its own identity service, Government Gateway.

“Control of personal data still sits with government. Uptake of Verify has been slow and departments such as HMRC continue to use their own identity model. This is because Verify provides limited information for certain transactions – meaning that departments need to request and check additional data. The new computer system also has trouble matching information with legacy systems,” the report said.

Reform suggests that a blockchain app is built across government departments such as HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Home Office and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) which would act as a layer on top of current databases. 

It would also include automated updates to ensure the databases are up to date. “This means moving from siloed departments holding different and even contradictory versions of a person’s identity to a user-stored identity, in an identity app on a smartphone,” the report said.

“User control will move from low to high, with blockchain providing the technology to achieve it. Unlike today’s identity management model, individuals will have access to their public service identity and will authorise who can see it, and in what form.”

Read more about blockchain technology

Reform said this could also include the use of biometrics to add an extra layer of security, where a citizen could scan their face or fingerprint to access and share identity data with government on their smartphone.

Looking to Estonia

The think tank argues that the government should look to Estonia, which is often held up as a leader in digital government, where the country is using blockchain technology to “hand back control of data back to the citizen”.

“Citizens have a unique identifier, akin to an NHS number, allowing them to access their health records and review requests by third parties to access their data, meaning their privacy is ensured,” the report said.

Reform said this would lead to citizens becoming data controllers and in charge of their own identity.

“In practice, an individual would have a set of two encrypted keys, one being completely private and the other public, allowing them to share information with public services,” the report said. “Taking the example of the passport, the individual would only use their public key when verifying their information with the Border Force.”

Computer Weekly reported earlier this year that HMRC is already exploring the potential use of blockchain at the UK border.

“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,” said HMRC’s Mike Potter.

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