Blockchain Democracy: Government Of The People, By The People, For The People

By Alex Tapscott for Forbes

We live in a crisis-wracked world. “The once-heralded Arab Spring has given way almost everywhere to conflict and repression,” wrote Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Many governments have responded to the turmoil by downplaying or abandoning human rights,” using the Internet to spy on citizens, using drones to drop explosives on civilians, and imprisoning protesters at events like the Olympics.

That’s the wrong response, according to economist Hernando de Soto. “The Arab Spring was essentially and still is an entrepreneurial revolution, people who have been expropriated,” said de Soto. “Basically, it’s a huge rebellion against the status quo,” the systematic trampling of citizens’ rights until they have no choice but to work outside the system.

That’s where the blockchain comes in. Blockchain is a vast, global distributed ledger or database running on millions of devices and open to anyone, where not just information but anything of value – money, but also titles, deeds, identities, even votes – can be moved, stored and managed securely and privately– and where trust can be established through mass collaboration and clever code rather than by powerful intermediaries like governments and banks.

Its design principles should drive this transformation as it supports and enables higher levels of the following:

Value. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. In other words, the right to an identity that has inherent value that can be hashed onto the blockchain at birth. We can aggregate other aspects of identity—diplomas, passport, driver’s license, social security card, voter ID—that currently exist in multiple databases into a single ledger and receive integrated services without multiple check-ins. We would own all our data and could decide how to deploy it. Our votes would have value.

Integrity. To rebuild the public’s trust in political institutions, elected officials must behave with integrity. Because the blockchain supports radical transparency, it is central to rebuilding trust between stakeholders and their representatives. Voters could trace exactly who donated to a candidate’s campaign, even through a SuperPAC. When governments publish raw data, they become a platform on which companies, the civil society, and other agencies can create services. We could use “pay for success” models to encourage innovation and incentivize achievement of desired results by releasing funds only when measurable results have been achieved.

Power. Everyone has a right to participate in government. Whoever is elected must conduct affairs in broad daylight as a peer among peers. With the blockchain, citizens can advocate for sealing government action in the public record in an unalterable and incorruptible ledger. Not just checks and balances among the powerful few but broad consensus of the many, for example, to effect background checks on potential gun owners.

Privacy and other rights preserved. No spying on citizens, no arbitrary interference with privacy, family, or home, no attacks upon anyone’s honour or reputation. No arbitrary seizure of property—real estate or intellectual property such as the patents of inventors—without compensation. No censorship of news organizations, no interference with efforts to assemble. People can register their copyrights, organize their meetings, and exchange messages privately and anonymously on the blockchain. Beware of any politician who argues for trade-offs between personal privacy and public security. Remember, it’s a false dichotomy.

Security. Everyone must have equal protection of the law without discrimination. No arbitrary detentions or arrests. No one person or group of people should live in fear of their own government or law enforcement agencies or be subjected to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment from members of those agencies because of their race, religion, or country of origin. Members of police forces couldn’t withhold evidence of undue use of force, and evidence couldn’t go missing. It would all be logged and tracked on the blockchain.

Inclusion. Using the Internet, citizens became more involved, learned from one another. With the blockchain, the system can cost-effectively engage all citizens and provide equal access to public services (e.g., health care, transportation, education) and social security.

Technology is a powerful tool but it alone cannot achieve the change we need. In the spirit of the saying “The future is not something to be predicted, it’s something to be achieved,” let’s reinvent government for a new era of legitimacy and trust. It’s time to stop the tinkering.

First appeared at Forbes