A week of highlighting potential Distributed Ledger Technology use cases in Parliament.

Distributed Ledger Technology [DLT] (or Blockchain) has the potential to drive public good in so many different ways. The problem is it’s like the plumbing. It’s an enabler, invisible, in the background and yet, in its uniqueness, invaluable and ground breaking.

As my 2017 report argued, DLT’s potential should be considered in almost every area of state activity, not to mention private applications.  DLT offers a unique opportunity, not just for the exchange of value, but crucially, not least in these times, a generator of value. Again the problem is, like the plumbing, it’s just not sexy.  It has to compete with its gorgeous classmate AI: better known and well regarded and very much a part of numerous elements of the customer experience.

As is so often the case, the one still in the shadows is the one with the real transformational potential. Three Parliamentary debates this week on completely different legislation – from anti-terrorist policing, to food production to the Enterprise Act 2002 – serve to demonstrate the variety of potential use cases for DLT.

Last Friday (10th July 2020) during a debate on facilitating the use of video recorded interviews in Northern Ireland (currently they are still using cassette tape) as laid out in the Terrorism Act 2000, I spoke on the potential for DLT in the justice system:

There is so much technology which needs to be deployed and could be helpful in this particular use case, not least distributed ledger technology. I gently guide the Minister to a report that I wrote in 2017 and updated in 2018, Distributed Ledger Technologies for Public Good. This kind of thing—albeit not exactly this—was one of the use cases set out there. It has such huge potential to transform the state, and the relationship between citizen and state, in a new, transformed, digital, smart social contract. I would welcome any comments the Minister might like to make on those issues.

Hansard, Terrorism Act 2000 (Video Recording with Sound of Interviews and Associated Code of Practice) (Northern Ireland) Order 2020, 10th July 2020

In the same debate my colleague Nat Wei also raised the question of technology:

The security of the data is also very important, and I would like to ask a final question—if the Minister does not have time to answer, a letter would be fine—around the use of blockchain and ledger technologies to watermark the videos, so that they could not be doctored because each would have a unique online identity. It is time we moved not just from VHS to recording in digital form, but actually kept pace with technology a step further. I would like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on this.

Hansard Terrorism Act 2000 (Video Recording with Sound of Interviews and Associated Code of Practice) (Northern Ireland) Order 2020, 10th July 2020

In his response the Minister promised to look into it:

I will look carefully at Hansard for the specific questions raised, in particular by my noble friend Lord Wei. I also take note of the report that my noble friend Lord Holmes produced. I will be sure to look at it—I have not looked at it yet—and will make sure that the Northern Ireland Office also does so.

Hansard, Terrorism Act 2000 (Video Recording with Sound of Interviews and Associated Code of Practice) (Northern Ireland) Order 2020, 10th July 2020

Second, during committee stage of the Agriculture Bill I will be introducing amendments which raise various use cases which the Government may wish to consider. One of the amendments would enable those involved in the agricultural and horticultural industries to achieve compliance with statutory obligations through digital means. A second amendment would require a report regarding the feasibility and means of enabling the agricultural and horticultural industries to achieve compliance with statutory obligations through digital means. During an initial debate I highlighted that food production is another area that could benefit from this technology:

I turn to the comments of a number of noble Lords about how technology can assist. Technology can enable us to produce food in the quantity, and of the quality, that we need. … Human-led technology has already brought about excellence in our food production.

Hansard, Agriculture Bill, Committee Stage 14th July 2020

Third, during a debate on the Enterprise Act 2002 (Regulations) I asked the Minister if DLT could be included in the list of technologies (currently artificial intelligence, cryptographic authentication and advanced materials) to be protected from hostile take overs in certain circumstances.  Again, AI rightly makes the cut but I believe we must consider all elements of the 4IR and their potential, such power individually, in combination, even more valuable.

We have such an opportunity in the UK with our brilliant technology businesses.  We must ensure that we give them all the support, all the sunlight, they deserve.  They have the potential to drive jobs, growth, opportunities and create not just a bigger, better economy but a more connected, creative, enabled and empowered society.  It is these technologies, not least DLT and AI, which can transform our state; transporting it from the 19th Century right into a 21st Century digital state – re-conceived through a new digital smart social contract.  None of this inevitable, quite the contrary, we all have a role to play to ensure we unleash all of these positive possibilities, for all our tomorrows.

Report into Blockchain for Local Government by the All-Party-Parliamentary-Group on Blockchain, September 2020

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