Trusting records: is Blockchain technology the answer?

DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/RMJ-12-2015-0042
Pages110-139
Publication Date18 July 2016
AuthorVictoria Louise Lemieux
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Information management & governance
Trusting records: is Blockchain
technology the answer?
Victoria Louise Lemieux
School of Library, Archival and Information Studies,
The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the value of Blockchain technology as a solution to
creating and preserving trustworthy digital records, presenting some of the limitations, risks and
opportunities of the approach.
Design/methodology/approach – The methodological approach involves using the requirements
embedded in records management and digital preservation standards, specically ISO 15,489, ARMA’s
Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles, ISO 14,721 and ISO 16,363, as a general evaluative
framework for a risk-based assessment of a specic proposed implementation of Blockchain technology
for a land registry system in a developing country.
Findings – The results of the analysis suggest that Blockchain technology can be used to address
issues associated with information integrity in the present and near term, assuming proper security
architecture and infrastructure management controls. It does not, however, guarantee reliability of
information in the rst place, and would have several limitations as a long-term solution for maintaining
trustworthy digital records.
Originality/value – This paper contributes an original analysis of the application of Blockchain
technology for recordkeeping.
Keywords Reliability, Authenticity, Risk, Digital preservation, Blockchain,
Trusted digital repository
Paper type Conceptual paper
1. Introduction
Ensuring trustworthiness of records is a necessary requirement in a range of different
contexts where systems of record provide critical underlying infrastructure necessary to
achieve development objectives. This is not only a problem for traditional archives, but
also for many organizations that may never have thought of themselves as performing
an archival function. This includes organizations responsible for civil registries of
births, deaths and marriages, land registries and repositories of nancial transactions,
to offer but a few examples. In each of these cases, if digital records are insecure or lack
integrity, development or organizational objectives may be thwarted. For example,
untrustworthy civil registration entries may mean that citizens are unable to prove their
identities as a necessary precondition of accessing social protection benets, or that
opportunities for identity fraud emerge that undermine a country’s immigration policies
and national security. Insecure land registries may create opportunities for corrupt
politicians to acquire properties that they are not entitled to by fraudulently entering
title transfers. Additionally, such records are often required for long periods that may
extend well beyond the life span of a single database system or server. Loss or
irretrievability of the records may prevent citizens from making future claims to
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/0956-5698.htm
RMJ
26,2
110
Received 4 December 2015
Revised 8 February 2016
16 April 2016
Accepted 16 April 2016
RecordsManagement Journal
Vol.26 No. 2, 2016
pp.110-139
©Emerald Group Publishing Limited
0956-5698
DOI 10.1108/RMJ-12-2015-0042
citizenship, land, social protection or other entitlements. In such cases, the inability to
secure long-term trust in records can lead to a more generalized breakdown in trust in
government and throughout society.
One technology that is increasingly being discussed as a solution to system of record
problems, such as the need for trusted digital records, is Blockchain technology.
Blockchain uses “cryptographic signatures and public keys […] chain-linked to form an
unforgeable record of transactions for, say, digital cash (or any ledger record for that
matter). Crypto proof replaces the notary” (Levy, 2014). Enthusiasm for the potential of
this new technology has been spreading fast, even among professional recordkeepers. In
a recent blog post, for example, Cassie Findlay of the Recordkeeping Roundtable writes:
A decentralised archive utilising the blockchain as a storage mechanism could offer an
uncontested space from which records could be accessed. Documents and other sets of data can
be validated by the blockchain – even if an application you used to get it there is not working.
It is decentralized proof which can’t be erased or modied by anyone; competitors, third
parties, governments. This is what distinguishes using the blockchain from other forms of
data timestamping and authentication […] The technology potentially offers a means for
society – or at least groups within society – to keep their own records with some assurance
about inviolability and longevity that was not possible before (Findlay, 2015).
Given the spread of Blockchain-based solutions and growing interest in using
Blockchain technology as a solution to recordkeeping issues, there is an urgent need for
records professionals to gain an understanding of the implications of relying on this
technology for the long-term management and preservation of trusted digital records.
This paper therefore examines whether Blockchain technology truly is capable of
meeting this objective.
2. Methodology and approach
The paper rst offers a brief general discussion of the conditions under which one might
trust records. This is followed by an overview of the high-level requirements for
preservation of trustworthy digital records, drawing upon internationally recognized
general records management and digital preservation standards (e.g. ISO 15,489, ISO
14,721 and ISO 16,363). The paper then offers background information about Bitcoin
Blockchain technology, followed by consideration of a particular proposed
implementation of Blockchain technology for the land registry system of a developing
country (Honduras), drawing upon an analysis of publicly available sources of
information about the architecture and operation of the proposed solution. The
Honduras example has been chosen to give the reader a concrete example of how
Blockchain-based recordkeeping solutions might operate in practice and how risks
associated with such systems might materialize. The Honduran example is based on a
solution that, at the time of writing, is only a proposal, which may or may not be
implemented by the Honduran government. Even so, it provides the most detailed
publically available information about a Blockchain-based recordkeeping solution to
date and thus offers the best current illustration of the issues discussed in this paper.
The paper concludes by reecting upon some of the limitations, risks and opportunities
presented by the application of Blockchain technology in recordkeeping, and Appendix
2links this discussion back to the high-level requirements for trusting records.
111
Trusting
records

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