Digital Identity

By on May 23, 2018 in Technology

In December, we named blockchain technology as one of the major trends for 2018. We were on to something. Even though blockchain technology is most often associated with cryptocurrencies, it has exceeded those applications.

What is Blockchain?

Blockchain is a digital ledger that records transactions in a series of blocks. It exists in multiple copies spread across multiple computers (nodes), impossible to tamper with thanks to the fact that each block of transactions (data) is linked back to previous blocks.

Once you learn more about blockchain, it becomes clear that there are a vast number of uses available for the technology. Cryptocurrencies were only the beginning.

Blockchain in the Real World

The City of Austin is among the governments and private entities seeking ways to use blockchain technology to solve some of society’s biggest challenges. Currently, there are about 2,000 people struggling with housing insecurity in Austin. Several thousand more live in poverty.

For people facing housing insecurity, identification documents are a serious challenge. Without safe storage, documents are easily stolen or lost. Securing housing, employment, and services becomes more difficult. The lack of documentation results in high costs, re-traumatization and diminished motivation.

In July 2017, Austin received a $1.25 million three-year grant for research and development to improve existing homelessness services. With the funds, officials launched a pilot program that uses blockchain to help homeless persons protect their identities in the event that their IDs are lost or destroyed. Dubbed MyPass Initiative, the program is a partnership between the city of Austin, Austin-Travis County EMS and Dell Medical School at the University of Texas.

The blockchain initiative will enable users to store information such as identification cards, social security numbers and medical history all in one virtual space. No matter where users show up to receive services, the information is easily accessible. With blockchain, the City can replace paper records with encrypted electronic records that could be more reliable and secure.

Looking Forward

The blockchain platform might even create a decentralized authentication mechanism to verify a person’s identity, medical history, and special needs. Users could have their medical history stored so that when they walk into a clinic, the blockchain ID would provide medical history information of to the provider.

The development of MyPass Initiative will require the effort of multiple organizations from sectors of social services and health. But if the Austin pilot is successful, the City is eligible for a $5 million grant. More importantly, there is hope that something similar can be done at a larger scale.