It may have made its name as the technology underpinning Bitcoin, but blockchain has moved on leaps and bounds from its early beginnings.
It’s no longer confined to the world of cryptocurrency, and is even being used by the governments of nation states and big public institutions. It’s been a meteoric rise for little old blockchain, and now it might even be used to eradicate crime.
OK, that could be a slight overstatement, but blockchain IS being explored as a way of boosting criminal justice and making the thankless chore of fighting bad guys a little easier to manage.
This will probably come as a surprise to many of you — after all, isn’t the police force one of the most centralized institutions imaginable? It certainly seems like a big contrast to blockchain’s image as a bastion of decentralization.
But while it might intuitively seem like a match made in hell, there are actually several voices in the world of criminal justice calling out for blockchain to be given a chance. This report, for example, makes some pretty compelling cases for implementing the technology.
So what are some of the ways blockchain could be used to tackle crime?
How It Could Work
One big pain point for the criminal justice sector is organization. You might never see Batman flicking through his file cabinet, but in the real world of law enforcement paperwork is a huge part of the deal.
From police officers all the way through to judges and courts, fighting for justice tends to involve being buried under a mountain of admin for a large part of the working day. It’s hard enough, but made even worse by organizational issues. In the U.K., around 50% of court trials are rescheduled, which leads to even more trouble with records.
That’s not to mention the issue with duplicated records, and just standard errors in copying that confuse and compound the paper trail. It’s a real headache.
That’s where blockchain could come in. It’s decentralized, distributed ledgers are a perfect way of storing information because they’re extremely tough to tamper with, transparent, and can be updated in real time.
Everyone with a copy of the ledger can view it, and see any changes as they happen. That means that people involved in criminal cases, such as victims, will be able to see updates on the case without having to wait for the police to contact them directly.
It could save time and money across the board, and avoid all kinds of issues that come from confused and incorrect record-keeping.
In the medical community, blockchain is being looked at as a way of verifying medical records. And now, the criminal justice sector is doing the same.
In theory, it’s a simple process. You put a hash on the blockchain, which corresponds to a physical file (stored safely in a police station, for example) which contains evidence. Because the ledger is immutable and can’t be tampered with, it can be used to check if evidence is the real deal. Just compare the hash to the ‘real’ file, and hope it matches up.
A guy called Alistair Davidson who works with the UK’s Ministry of Justice published a blog post recently where he talked about this possibility. It’s still just an idea, but there’s definitely a strong case for it.
Evidence is just one area where authenticity matters. In a study by one Swiss lab, more than 70% of all artwork they looked at was fake. Since this stuff tends to sell for crazy prices, that’s a big deal.
Plus, when you buy art online the chances of getting scammed are even higher, as there aren’t many ways to check if the work is legit before buying. You basically have to trust whatever slick virtual art-dealer you get.
Once again, though, blockchain may be heroically coming to the rescue. It’s been proposed as a way to verify artwork, by giving each genuine item a unique code which can be cross-referenced with a hash on the blockchain, just like with evidence.
While it’s hard for anyone but an expert to know if artwork is authentic, the blockchain’s immutable design means that everyone can be assured the hash is trustworthy. And if they don’t match up, no dice.
This doesn’t just apply to art, either. There are plenty of items out there which are prone to fakery, ranging from jeans to smartphones. Even drugs are often counterfeit, and every year more than 200,000 people die from dodgy anti-allergy drugs alone. Verifying them could literally mean the difference between life and death.
So, in a world of chaos and confusion, maybe blockchain is the key to building a society based on stability, justice, and the rule of law. Bet you didn’t see THAT one coming.
Is blockchain truly the answer to crime? Let us know what you think.