Think tank calls for urgent review of how blockchain could help – and hinder – police
The Police Foundation identifies various potential benefits and challenges of distributed-ledger technology
Blockchain could help law-enforcement agencies share data with each and the public, according to Police Foundation director Rick Muir
Leading think tank The Police Foundation is urging law enforcement and government to examine the ways in which blockchain could help conduct criminal investigations – as well the challenges it could pose.
The organisation’s director Rick Muir has flagged up three major potential benefits of the technology for the police and the wider public sector. The first is that it could permit citizens to have more access to their data and power over how it is used.
“Crime reports could be made on a distributed ledger, with victims being updated automatically every time there was a development in the case, rather than police officers or prosecutors having to remember to phone the victim,” he said.
Secondly, blockchain could solve some of the problems the police faces around the interoperability of systems and sharing of data between various forces and other parts of the criminal-justice system.
“Blockchain may help by allowing multiple users access to the same data with varying levels of permission,” Muir said.
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Finally, the Police Foundation chief claims that using blockchain could help deliver efficiencies by helping avoid the information bottlenecks that occur during an investigation when one agency needs to get hold of data from another.
“In 2010, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that during the prosecution of a standard domestic burglary there were 70 ‘rubbing points’, where the progress of a case was dependent upon one justice agency securing information from another,” he said. “In addition, as part of this process there were at least seven occasions where data needed to be transferred between agencies.”
Muir added: “This level of complexity presents multiple moments for mistakes to be made and for duplication to occur. Blockchain technology could enable automatic updates and design in rules to prevent error.”
But adopting the technology brings with it numerous potential challenges, Muir said, and the police “should not breathlessly embrace blockchain as the solution to all our problems”.
One such challenge is a level of encryption that could allow criminals to protect their identities. Another is that “a more decentralised internet” built around distributed-ledger technologies like blockchain would make it harder to monitor and remove content such as child pornography and blogs and videos inciting or promoting terrorism.
Muir concluded: “The government, the police, the public,” and the tech sector should rapidly discuss the implications [of blockchain].
Blockchain is a public digital ledger in which entries are separate, but linked together by cryptography. It achieved prominence after being used as a key building block of the bitcoin virtual currency.
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