Blockchain makes new inroads into public sector

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Many of the efforts are still nascent, but all levels of government have started to explore blockchain’s capabilities through pilot projects, legislation and research.

Over the past month, several states, local governments and federal agencies have started to explore blockchain’s capabilities through pilot projects, legislation and research.

Two Nevada counties, for example, are using blockchain to secure public records. Washoe County has been issuing digital marriage certificates through a contract with Titan Seal, a company that uses the Ethereum platform to certify the documents, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. Couples who get a paper marriage certificate from Washoe County also get a certified digital copy emailed to them, usually within a day. Elko County is testing the use of blockchain to create certified digital copies of birth certificates.

In Wyoming, Teton County signed a memorandum of understanding with Overstock.com subsidiary Medici to develop a blockchain-based land records and information platform.  Medici and Teton County will work together to develop software to transfer and display information from its current land and property titling system to a new blockchain-based platform.

At the municipal level, Cleveland is looking to establish itself as a major blockchain hub with the Blockland Cleveland initiative.  The group held a sold-out conference in December that convened industry executives and state representatives. At the conference, Case Western Reserve University announced the creation of a new think tank to bring together local business, academic institutions, government agencies and tech accelerators to research and build applications related to blockchain, according to Cleveland.com.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation has selected partners to help it launch and operate its public-private NYC Blockchain Center. The Center is designed to be an access point for New York's growing blockchain ecosystem and will provide entrepreneurs and other innovators with shared space, business support, and mentorship.

State governments, meanwhile, are tackling the policy challenges of distributed-ledger technology.  Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced the creation of a working group to study blockchain.  The AG's office will be working with three other state agencies to convene stakeholders and industry experts to learn about the opportunities and challenges presented by blockchain technology and whether regulation is necessary. The group plans to start meeting this month.

The state also issued an RFI to identify vendors that may work with the state on a pilot program allowing new captive insurance companies to register with the Secretary of State using blockchain. The pilot will test the functionality of the distributed ledger technology in state regulatory processes and include a review and revision of relevant statutes, rules, regulations and bulletins to ease blockchain implementation.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to establish a digital currency task force.  Under the new law,  the task force  will submit reports reviewing the digital currency, cryptocurrency and blockchain industries in the state and the use of digital currencies’ impact on state and local tax receipts.  The report also will include legislative and regulatory requirements to increase transparency and security, enhance consumer protections and address the long-term impacts related to cryptocurrency uses.

And at the federal level, a growing number of agencies are following the footsteps of early adopters like the General Services Administration, Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Health and Human Services (which now has a blockchain system authorized and in production).

In December, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support convened a two-day meeting to discuss the agency’s response to Hurricane Maria and its recovery operations.  Troop Support’s Continuous Improvement Office made a presentation on how blockchain could improve DLA logistics by providing updates to ordering and delivery tracking information.

A NASA researcher has published a paper suggesting blockchain can be used to secure the privacy of data transmissions related air traffic. To improve air traffic management, aircraft must comply with the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast mandate that requires they publicly transmit identity, position and other information. The Aviation Blockchain Infrastructure would allow control over what data is shared publicly or privately with authorized entities.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has issued a request for information to improve the agency’s understanding of the technology, mechanics and markets for virtual currencies, specifically Ether and its use on the Ethereum Network. The CFTC wants to advance its “mission of ensuring the integrity of derivatives markets as well as monitoring and reducing the systemic risk by enhancing legal certainty in the markets.”

In December, the CFTC released a 23-page primer on smart contracts.  The report seeks to educate interested parties on how smart contracts work through use cases and applications at the CFTC.  The primer also includes an overview of the challenges, risks and governance of smart contracts.

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