Information Technology

You can’t handle the truth, but blockchain can

By Ed Fowler, Vice President. Head of Digital Engineering Services EMEA, Virtusa
Information Technology
Published: 9 April 2018

One would be hard pushed to find a buzzword that has captivated culture more than ‘fake news’ over the past few years. From raising doubts over the veracity of news reporting, to Photoshop leading us to question the origins of a piece of photojournalism, the lines of truth have been well and truly blurred. It is easier than ever before to edit and share pictures, meaning photographic evidence is no longer enough to satiate our need for accuracy as so many of us are weary of being deceived by edited images. At its core, this is a question of the validity of modern proof, a problem that goes beyond photography, encompassing all IP or evidential disputes. We simply have no definitive way to prove the authenticity of documents, photos, or any other piece of evidence.

The legal world has evolved a complex process in response to this – allowing a judge or jury to weigh against a set of evidence and arrive at a “balance of probabilities”. Even if we put to one side the potential for miscarriages of justice and assume every decision made is without error – it is an arduous slow, costly process . With over two million civil lawsuits per year in the UK alone, it also comes at great cost to both society and the economy. Moreover, it means even agreements made in good faith are impeded by complex storage and review processes, intended to prove ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ the provenance of any communication, contract or transaction.

The case for blockchain
The solution may be here sooner than any of us thought. Kodak recently entered the cryptocurrency market; although many dismissed this as a desperate “me too!” from the one-time tech titan, the creative world registered the shift it represented in terms of allowing photographers to retain control of their work. Kodak’s cryptocurrency isn’t a general-purpose coin or mainstream method of exchange – it’s a rights management tool of remarkable power. It both regulates the usage of anything secured by it, and proves beyond any reasonable doubt who created the image, as well as where or when it was made.

This use case has yet to be widely explored; nevertheless, it represents a transformation in how we think about the creation, control and management of content and its documentation. Underpinning Kodak’s new system is blockchain. For Kodak users, each photograph – including image, time stamp, location tag, and device serial number – is encoded within a KODAKCoin and subsequently registered on the relevant blockchain.

New standard of proof
In this use case, there are three key features of blockchain that help to prove provenance:

  1. Decentralised: Blockchain is a distributed ledger where all transaction data is logged with no central register, administration or library. There is no single point of failure, and no obvious place for someone to launch a fraudulent scheme. Network participants can see the complete history and transfer of assets making fraudulent transactions identifiable. To tamper with the transaction records on a blockchain, someone would have to control the majority of the system, a difficult feat as the network grows in size.
  2. Immutable: Blockchain is immutable as the transactions recorded within it cannot be deleted or amended. Before a “block” of transactions can be added to the blockchain, participants of the network must concur the transaction is valid through a process called ‘consensus’. The block is then given a timestamp, secured through cryptography, and linked to the previous block in the chain. Though it is possible to create new transactions to change the state or owner of the asset, these are simply appended to the end of the chain, with the original record still there and accessible.
  3. Controllable: Access to the blockchain can be controlled, for instance, certain transactions on the blockchain may be confidential, or others may require rights confirmation before access is granted. Blockchains don’t need to have built-in permissions but specialised ones like KODAKCoin have implemented them; access is managed through tightly supervised permissioning networks, helping to keep out those with malicious intentions.

An irrevocable transformation of record keeping
The ability to store unimpeachable records of data – be that emails, contracts, songs, votes or health records – and to have that storage also contain the context of its creation has clear benefits. Blockchain is capable of storing content in a distributed, controlled, immediately accessible, and truly transparent manner, triggering profound changes in our business and personal lives.

At the very least, it could erase the need for record storage and searches, however, the real change is the veracity blockchain provides. By demonstrating provenance as an intrinsic part of the ‘thing’, blockchain removes the very concept of ‘proof’ being separate from the ‘thing’. Critics have suggested blockchain is a solution to a non-existent problem but, from last will and testaments and antiques, to exam results and health records, the example use cases for blockchain as a way to prove ownership and origin are abundant.

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