Ever since its inception blockchain has been linked with anti-establishment, libertarian ideas.
It’s been framed as a bastion of independence and decentralization in the face of powerful centralized institutions like banks and governments.
It’s not too difficult to see why. Blockchain enables transactions to take place on a peer-to-peer basis, without the need for a centralized body. It’s given rise to anonymous payment systems, created currencies that exist outside of traditional banks, and allowed people to draft contracts without the need of a legal professional.
Given that it’s so anti-establishment, you might expect nation states to be doing everything in their power to thwart blockchain. And while there are definitely some loud voices speaking against it, many countries are actually taking steps to embrace the technology.
While government departments in the U.S. like the Ministry of Defence and parts of the healthcare world are toying with the idea of blockchain, other countries are going full-steam ahead with it.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of blockchain being used on the national level.
Estonia and E-residency
Former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia said that: “Estonia is now a blockchain nation”.
That’s a heck of a statement, and you’d be hard pushed to find a more outright commitment to blockchain from a head of state.
What Ilves meant is that Estonia has built a nationwide digital identity scheme, called e-residency. Under the scheme, everybody in the country gets their own digital ID, with their personal data decentralized and stored on a distributed blockchain ledger.
This means that anyone can use their ID to log in and view information like their medical records. They can also see who else has accessed and updated the record, and take legal action against unauthorized parties who do this.
The project aims to connect all 1.3 million Estonians and transfer power from the state to its citizens. It’s an ambitious idea, and could well inspire other countries to follow suit.
Sweden’s Land Registry
For most of us, the most valuable thing we can ever hope to own is our home. For governments, keeping track of land and property ownership has always been a pretty arduous task, with tons of paperwork and bureaucracy to take care of.
While most countries in the world are still firmly stuck with traditional records and paper documents, Sweden are taking strides to drag their land registry into the 21st Century with the help of blockchain technology.
They plan to move all of the registry information onto a distributed ledger, which can be updated in real time and will immediately flag up any suspicious behaviour.
Experts believe it could save the Swedish taxpayer something like 100 million euros a year by seriously cutting down on bureaucracy, minimizing the risk of fraud, and making transactions quicker.
It’s not quite ready to go yet — there are quite a few legal obstacles to surmount first, and the sheer amount of time required to shift centuries of records into the digital age means that this particular blockchain dream probably won’t be a reality until at least 2019.
Nevertheless, the Swedes are hopeful that the project will be a success, and are even considering doing the same for other areas like the tax authority.
Ukraine and Georgia – Fighting Corruption the Digital Way
For two countries in Eastern Europe, blockchain technology could be the key to shaking off an unwanted reputation for corruption.
In the Ukraine, land reform is a major talking point. Many people believe that blockchain could be used to manage the farming registry, as the current system is vulnerable to fraud.
The people of Ukraine want to lift the ban on the sale of farms, but to do this would require a more transparent and secure registry than the one that currently exists. Blockchain has been hailed as the perfect solution.
Unfortunately, there’s a lack of political support for the idea right now, but the goal would be to develop a system similar to the Swedish one above, with a distributed ledger that can be updated in real time.
When blockchains are updated, everyone with a copy of the ledger is made aware. This makes tampering easy to detect and helps thwart corruption, even without mentioning the fact that blockchains are extremely tricky to tamper with in the first place.
Ukraine wasn’t the first to suggest blockchain as a way to tackle corruption. In 2016, Georgia made a deal with a company called BitFury to register land titles on the blockchain.
For them, it was a bold statement of anti-corruption – a way of showing the world that they were unafraid to store land ownership information in a transparent ledger.
The popularity of blockchain in former Soviet countries could be a response to decades of corruption and authoritarian rule. The technology ultimately stands for freedom and the power of the individual over any controlling party, and it’s naturally resistant to fraud.
As small nations eagerly dive into blockchain, maybe more powerful states will begin to see its potential too.