As Brexit looms, the United Kingdom has pressing questions to answer. The negotiation process to exit the European Union is complicated by Northern Ireland (part of the UK)’s proximity to its neighbor (and EU member), the Republic of Ireland. There have been fears that the border between the two will “become an external EU border…thus inhibiting movement and trade on the island,” says a report from crypto news site CCN. This has created a problem for politicians, who want to ensure frictionless trade while “respecting the spirit of the referendum decision.” Phillip Hammond, the UK’s finance minister, believes he has the solution – blockchain.
Blockchain has been embraced across industries for its security, transparency, and ability to work in a variety of contexts, making it a natural fit for the diverse range of tasks overseen by the government. Reuters quoted Hammond as saying that he “[doesn’t] claim to be an expert,” but that “the most obvious technology is blockchain” to keep trade moving without interruption post-Brexit. While Hammond failed to elaborate on how blockchain would be useful in that context, the immutable ledger technology is being put to work by the government in other situations.
The Food Standards Agency, which is responsible for ensuring food safety in the UK, announced in July that they had successfully used blockchain to track data on meat from slaughterhouse, calling it “the first time blockchain has been used as a regulatory tool to ensure food compliance in the food sector” in a press release. The trial run made data “accessible [to] both the FSA and the slaughterhouse as permissioned participants;” the FSA announced that they would include farmers in the next phase of the trial, giving them access to data throughout the process as well.
Additionally, the government’s National Archives is collaborating with the University of Surrey on a project called ARCHANGEL to “allow archives to register hashes of documents onto a permissioned blockchain”, thus eliminating the ability to change information (and undermine the accuracy of a document) when transferring it between formats. According to the National Archives’ blog, records with authorized changes “will have hashes registered on the blockchain” as well as an “audit trail indicating how a document has been changed”, all verified via cryptographic algorithms. Early returns are promising for the system, which is operational but remains a prototype.
New use cases for blockchain continue to present themselves. The UK’s Ministry of Justice announced in August that they would explore using the technology to provide a transparent and tamper-proof system for digital evidence storage as part of a broader court reform initiative. The government will also extend their partnership with the University of Surrey to voting- and healthcare-related projects. Whether blockchain has a place in Brexit is uncertain – that the UK government will continue to use it to solve new problems is without question.
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