Decentralised government project Bitnation offers refugees blockchain IDs and …

Bitnation, an ambitious project for the decentralisation of governance using blockchain technology, is offering victims of the current refugee crisis an emergency digital ID and a bitcoin visa card to receive funds from family in the absence of a bank account.

Susanne Templehof, founder of Bitnation, explained the Blockchain Emergency ID is a rudimentary emergency ID, based on the blockchain technology, for individuals who cannot obtain other documents of identification.

The purpose is to cryptographically prove your existence and family relations, recorded on the Horizon blockchain, a distributed public ledger (like an international public notary of sorts).

The ID form generates a QR code which can be used with a cellphone to apply for a Bitcoin Visa Card which can be used throughout Europe and the UK without a bank account.

Templehof said: “We are providing emergency ID and then this visa card because most refugees will be unemployed. They won’t be legally able to get a job for several years and they can’t open a bank account.”

She was talking at an event organised by the Bitcoin and Blockchain Leadership Forum, which is known for being a forward thinking force within this space.

Templehof added that allowing payment directly to bitcoin debit cards rather than solely relying on aid organisations spares people in crisis some added humiliation: “if you are an adult man, you are used to providing for your family and then you have to wait for handouts of blankets and food from charities.

“We also provide family services like maps where people can say, ‘I lost this person here – I’m in Germany’. So it’s basically all built around families uniting again.”

The current refugee crisis in Europe highlights a problem in society which Templehof labels one of the most criminal parts of our existing legacy system – borders.

“I would like to see all legacy systems disappear, the most important being borders. That is the most criminal one. Just because you are born in the wrong area with a piece of paper you can be subject to a horrible government or famine or starvation.”

More generally, the project aims for mass adoption to eventually “out-compete governments by providing the same services cheaper and better through the blockchain”.

“We don’t allow monopolies or oligopolies – why do we accept it when it comes to government services?”

Bitnation’s core services are ID and reputation and dispute resolution and public registries. Other services include insurance, security, marriage, death certificates, land titles.

Templehof compared governments to services available on the internet like Facebook or Linked-in. “Just because we are born in one area we have to use one service provider. That is absurd to me. It’s as absurd as only being allowed to visit one single website because you are born in a certain geographical area,” she said.

Incorporating a company could be done in 20 minutes and cost $2, instead of two weeks and £100; a bank might not recognise it but your customers will, said Templehof.

“And with bitcoin we don’t need banks any more.”

She added: “To get married on the blockchain would take you ten minutes between writing the contract and time-stamping it.

Templehof warned that the intrinsic immutability of blockchain systems means it could be very hard to get a divorce, however, suggesting short term marriage contracts of four or five years at a time.

“And in many countries things like gay marriage is illegal and of course blockchain doesn’t give a s**t about that.

“So you could marry as many people as you want, any gender. You could marry your cat – although that could be difficult to actually get the cat to sign.”

As well as the huge increase in stateless people in Europe from the refugee crisis, Bitnation is looking at developing markets, assisted economies and the grey economy.

A compelling use case for blockchain registry capabilities concerns land rights in the developing world. In places like Ghana, 70% of land is untitled and people just trade it peer to peer, which brings a lot of security problems.

“We are hoping they will leapfrog with this governance technology and the rest of the world will follow.”

Doing the right thing in the developing world is one thing, but making a leap into developed markets is quite another. “I think over time it’s all about adoption, just like bitcoin. If you use it as a payment then it is money, regardless of a government.”

Moving from the sublime to the slightly more realistic – was Nick Williamson and Cecile Baird from the Credits team, which have now implemented the world’s first government blockchain application in the Isle of Man.

Credits is known to be involved in a number of interesting projects at this time, including providing the blockchain technology to Peter Randall’s SETL system for doing wholesale trading and banking payment finality. Credits is also currently building a federated KYC system with Isle of Man government.

Williamson summed up blockchain capabilities as “a series of statements that are both irrevocable and attributable”. He said the KYC system uses the blockchain as a more modern form of public key infrastructure, “taking the source data from the passport office, from the DMV, from the post office from the utility companies, and using that to prove granular things about a person’s identity”.

He said the current insecure and clunky process of KYC process involves uploading a picture of passport, a picture of a utility bill and other supporting documentation. “This fundamentally doesn’t tell you anything about the person on the other end of that internet connection – and also gives away the keys to the kingdom so to speak.

“So anyone who has that picture then can use it to impersonate you going forward, so each time you sign up for a new service you are actually increasing your liability that your ID might be stolen.

“Instead we can use blockchain and granular bits of person’s identity with their public keys, that they have generated, ideally on a secure device like we carry around with us right now – our phones and more modern laptops.

“That gives you the guarantee that if you get a message signed by one of those public keys, it’s at least somebody who had that device and knows their PIN. So we see the process much closer to the way you would allow permissions when you install an app on your phone right now.

A customer would be empowered to send a cryptographically signed message that allows a bank, for example, to see four bits of one’s identity and reference the place where these can be found. It is done automatically and would show on an interface that it had been authorised, he said.

Regarding the decentralisation of government authority, Williamson added: “It’s not necessarily about giving up power. It’s about opening up access to these trust networks we have built up as a human civilisation using software.”