Welcome to the seventh article in PYMNTS’ Blockchain in Action Series.
Most people at least know that blockchain is the technology that bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are built on, but a digital ledger that timestamps and orders transactions in an easily trackable and immutable way has many more uses.
See also: Crypto Basics Series: What’s a Blockchain and How Does It Work?
In this Blockchain in Action Series article, we’ll look at how distributed ledger technology can make the massive, multiheaded insurance business faster, smarter and more accurate.
Blockchain in Action: How to Track Anything in Real Time
Blockchain in Action: Combined With IoT, Blockchain Can Fight COVID
Blockchain in Action: Creating a Private, Unhackable and Trusted Digital Identity
Blockchain in Action: TradeLens Connects Shipping, Customs, Trade Financing
Blockchain in Action: Healthcare and Pharma Blockchains Are a Matter of Life and Death
Blockchain in Action: Taming Complexity, Costs in the Insurance Business
It’s said that there are only two certainties in life: Death and taxes, both of which require the extensive use of government records.
That’s what we’re going to look at in this article.
You’re born, you get a birth certificate. You die, someone gets a death certificate about you.
And there’s paperwork for just about everything in between: Social security numbers, school records, driver’s licenses and other types of IDs, taxes, voter registration, college degrees or trade licenses, auto insurances, marriage certificates, title deeds for land and a home, parental version of birth certificates and school records, social security and Medicare taxes, social security and Medicare payments…
If any one of those records is neglected, or has a mistake, or gets misfiled, you suffer, in ways that range from long waits in lines and on hold, to being forbidden to do something like drive, to fines or even jail.
This is where we get to blockchain.
Blockchains have a number of features that make them very useful to governments. For one thing, they are immutable — meaning once they are written onto a blockchain they cannot be changed, but can be updated. They are also easy to search and stored in many virtual sites — each node in a blockchain has a complete copy of what’s on it, and all the nodes on the chain have to agree.
See more: PYMNTS Crypto Basics Series: What’s a Consensus Mechanism?
As a security measure, blockchains like Ethereum and its competitors can be set up to limit access to some data by encryption and use of smart contracts. In addition, private or “permissioned” blockchains can be built.
Also read: Crypto Basics Series: What’s a Permissioned Blockchain and How Does Centralized Decentralization Work?
There are some things that need to be searchable only by the right people. Health records are a prime example, but police files, for example, need to be kept confidential.
You can put those together easily enough to see how being able to easily and quickly cross-check records can be. In New York, handgun licenses require not only a criminal background check but also a search of the Department of Mental Health to check for records of a past or present mental health issue that could bar someone from getting a gun. Aside from being able to check quickly, a blockchain based system could limit the license issuer’s access to those records only if there is a gun permit request in the system, and only to that person.
That’s a bigger issue than it might seem. Public trust in government is at an all-time low, the Pew Research Center said. In a Monday (June 6) article, it said it found that just 22% of the U.S. public trusts the government to do what is right most of the time.
However, governments are slow to adopt new technology. One early place that blockchain has made its way into is land ownership records.
Immutable Land Ownership
The Republic of Georgia has put land title deeds on a blockchain, allowing citizens to search and verify ownership of a piece of property from their smartphones.
So what? If you’ve ever bought a house, do you remember the money the bank made you spend on a title search? The mortgage company doesn’t want to be surprised to find that the person who sold it to the person who’s selling it to you didn’t really own the land your house is built on.
This idea is behind a project by Virginia’s Wise County to bring its property records onto a blockchain, building a 40-year-deep “smart land record,” the local Cardinal News reported in March. Aside from saving the time and cost of a title search, “banks require that just to make sure you have a good title, [so] that they can take your property as collateral in case you default on your payments and they can foreclose without anything being out there that’s unexpected,” said April Huff, Wise County Circuit Court’s master deputy clerk.
There’s more to it than that, however. In developing nations, many poor people cannot prove they have legal title to land they have held for generations. As long ago as 2019, the World Bank was looking into using blockchain in this capacity.
“Many countries do not even have a ledger, and even for those who do, property records are typically vulnerable to inconsistencies, as well as issues like tampering, damage and loss,” according to World Bank Economist Sebastian Kriticos. “These weaknesses contribute to issues of unclear ownership and tenure, which collectively lock land into unproductive use… formal titles could instigate productive redevelopment of land by reducing expropriation risks, facilitating market transactions and unlocking access to finance.”
In other words, a blockchain-backed system of land ownership verification could let people use the value of their land to work their way out of poverty.

About: PYMNTS’ survey of 2,094 consumers for The Tailored Shopping Experience report, a collaboration with Elastic Path, shows where merchants are getting it right and where they need to up their game to deliver a customized shopping experience.
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