In case you haven’t heard: Blockchain is all the rage. Yes, it has officially been added to the list of the “next big, transformational technologies” by the American National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). It is most famous for enabling the diffusion of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and its siblings - but the technology is far more exciting and useful than for this single application.
My name is Silvia Profeti, I am 25 years old, and I work as government consultant. I am the co-founder of nextPA, a Bocconi students association focused on Public Management, and a member of the Vox “Smart State” Team. Generally speaking, I love to be an active citizen and to work for each cause I believe in.
Developed in 2008 as the technology underpinning the Bitcoin diffusion, it is a list of subsequent records, called blocks, referring to a timestamp and transaction data. And since the Blockchain is managed by peers, data is verified and approved by all the involved parties and, once recorded, it is protected using cryptography and cannot be altered.
Thus in layman’s terms, the Blockchain is incredibly good at keeping track of stuff. It never “forgets”, making transactions publicly traceable - forever. What’s more, its integrity isn’t vouched for centrally, but by everyone who takes part in the system. The higher the number of blocks, the greater the security and transparency of the chain.
Here is how it works:
Sorry, we are going to be a little philosophical and ironic here. Keep it in mind before reading on.
Would you allow us to make the case that our life is all about transactions? Some of these exchanges are personal, and they are the best. As citizens, however, many transactions are made on our behalf: money is spent, information is exchanged. Light bulbs are swapped, schools are built, treaties are signed, wars are fought. Governments enable and control all these “things” and that’s why we vote them and we pay them taxes: they govern our lives using data. And data needs to be recorded.
Then, when asking for transparency, we basically mean that we want to understand where the money goes, we want to know what our records say and what they are used for. We want to make sure our vote counts. The Blockchain is the technology that can bring about transparency in unprecedented form. It would give anyone the means of tracing transactions made, from the swapped light bulb at the train station all the way to the international trades agreement and everywhere in between, whenever a transaction is made.
Although doubts about its scalability still exist, Blockchain could, essentially, be the default tool to bring about real accountability. And yes, Donald Trump’s claim of not being able to release his tax returns for, basically, technical reasons could be solved with one click. But this would be only one case. If we fulfilled the entire governments’ transactions with fully transparent digital technology, it would be a lot harder for citizens to evade taxes and for administrations to abuse of public funds (or exploit the private ones).
There are good news, indeed. More and more governments want to use the blockchain technology to secure and exchange citizens’ data.
A recent European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) report, in fact, shows how the technology could be used to register transactions and requests that administrations receive from citizens and enterprises, reducing time and transactions costs.
And Italy? The country is looking into using the blockchain to secure procurement transactions, manage public registries and medical records and establish a distributed and transparent document preservation system. It sounds amazing.
And it gets better: Estonia, which started investing in blockchain technology years ago, is currently running the European Semester, which means this is the perfect moment to highlight the public sector digitization as one of the most important EU political priorities.
Vox is a European movement, which, at its core, aims to rewrite how politics are done. Hundreds of people are working across the continent right now, all in the spirit of building a pan-European solution to the current political crisis.
We are worried that trust in our institutions and parties alikeis eroding across Europe, mostly because of missing accountability. There is a growing sense that governmental actions are not transparent nor monitored, especially on European level, and this is a key battle to fight for.
While there are many more areas needing work to fix this, Blockchain poses an incredible opportunity to create unprecedented transparency in government transactions. It could become the tool to help a digitally native generation trust politics and policy-making again.
The road to government actions recorded in the blockchain is a few steps away, obviously: we need also a robust cybersecurity systems to protect citizens’ sensitive data and their privacy and a Europe-wide, robust legislation that ensures a tight control of civil servants handling data.
Last, but not least, we need to bring about a fundamental change in attitude and culture. Government agencies across all levels have to start working fully digital. It’s inevitable, it can’t come soon enough, yet, we need to be watchful and ensure that systems are designed with transparency and the observation of fundamental civil rights in mind.
Again, we are on the right path: an Italian law called “CAD” (Codice dell’Amministrazione Digitale, D. Lgs. 82/2005 and subsequent updates) recommends the reorganization of all public bodies and the training of their employees, as a first step to digitize the whole administration and deliver better services. What are we waiting for?
If you want to join the change towards a more transparent digital society, now is the time. Drop me a line via email@example.com or as a comment here and I’ll set you up to get started. Vox lives and breathes Europe, so every new angle is welcome and your voice is needed.
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