IT Systems and Data Protection

27.04.16

Next step in government digitilisation is blockchain technology – Hancock

Blockchain technology is the next step in modernising government digital services, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock said at a London digital conference.

In his speech at King’s Cross station ahead of the opening of the Blockchain Workshop, organised by Digital Catapult, Hancock warned that government “cannot bury its head in the sand” as it did with the rise of the internet.

He paid tribute to the role of the Government Digital Service in introducing one Gov.uk website, followed by the current process of ‘government as a platform’ to ensure that different government digital departments are integrated.

Hancock said that blockchain, a data-sharing system first used in the Bitcoin online currency, needed to be implemented to ensure that the digital data produced by collaboration itself was accurate.

He said: “Blockchains – distributed ledgers, shared ledgers – are digital tools for building trust in data.

“Rather than a single central authority demanding trust and declaring: ‘I say this data is correct,’ you have the distributed consensus of everyone in the chain, saying in unison: ‘we agree that this data is correct.’

“They bring with them built-in integrity and immutability. You can only write new data, nothing is ever removed or deleted.

“Now blockchain technology is not going to solve every problem, or work in every context. When a trusted body already exists, for example, that can hold canonical data, that’s often the best solution.

“But the fact that data held in the blockchain comes with its own history, and that history is a fundamental part of proving its integrity, this fact is enormously powerful.”

He added that the government had already committed to giving the Alan Turing Institute a £10m grant to investigate digital currencies and distributed ledger technologies.

Hancock told the software developers at the conference that the government were “relying on [their] brains to guide” them in the best ways to implement blockchain in government.

He said this could include “the Student Loans Company tracking money all the way from Treasury to a student’s bank account. Or the Department for International Development tracking money all the way to the aid organisation spending the money in country.”

Liam Maxwell, formally chief technology officer at the Government Digital Service, was recently announced as the UK’s first National Digital Adviser.

Warren Smith, interim programme director of the Digital Marketplace in the Government Digital Service, wrote for the latest edition of PSE about the development of a new digital framework.

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