Innovations In The Fight Against Corruption In Latin America


Blog Post by Beth Noveck:  “…The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) has published an important, practical and prescriptive report with recommendations for every sector of society from government to individuals on innovative and effective approaches to combatting corruption. While focused on Latin America, the report’s proposals, especially those on the application of new technology in the fight against corruption, are relevant around the world….

IADB Anti-Corruption Report

The recommendations about the use of new technologies, including big data, blockchain and collective intelligence, are drawn from an effort undertaken last year by the Governance Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering to crowdsource such solutions and advice on how to implement them from a hundred global experts. (See the Smarter Crowdsourcing against Corruption report here.)…

Big data, when published as open data, namely in a form that can be re-used without legal or technical restriction and in a machine-readable format that computers can analyze, is another tool in the fight against corruption. With machine readable, big and open data, those outside of government can pinpoint and measure irregularities in government contracting, as Instituto Observ is doing in Brazil.

Opening up judicial data, such as information about case processing times, judges’ and prosecutors’ salaries, information about selection processes, such as CV’s, professional and academic backgrounds, and written and oral exam scores provides activists and reformers with the tools to fight judicial corruption. The Civil Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ) (a non-profit advocacy group) in Argentina uses such open justice data in its Concursos Transparentes (Transparent Contests) to fight judicial corruption. Jusbrasil is a private open justice company also using open data to reform the courts in Brazil….(More)”

The soft spot of hard code: blockchain technology, network governance and pitfalls of technological utopianism


Moritz Hutten at Global Networks: “The emerging blockchain technology is expected to contribute to the transformation of ownership, government services and global supply chains. By analysing a crisis that occurred with one of its frontrunners, Ethereum, in this article I explore the discrepancies between the purported governance of blockchains and the de facto control of them through expertise and reputation. Ethereum is also thought to exemplify libertarian techno‐utopianism.

When ‘The DAO’, a highly publicized but faulty crowd‐funded venture fund was deployed on the Ethereum blockchain, the techno‐utopianism was suspended, and developers fell back on strong network ties. Now that the blockchain technology is seeing an increasing uptake, I shall also seek to unearth broader implications of the blockchain for the proliferation or blockage of global finance and beyond. Contrasting claims about the disruptive nature of the technology, in this article I show that, by redeeming the positive utopia of ontic, individualized debt, blockchains reinforce our belief in a crisis‐ridden, financialized capitalism….(More)”.

Blockchain systems are tracking food safety and origins


Nir Kshetri at The Conversation: “When a Chinese consumer buys a package labeled “Australian beef,” there’s only a 50-50 chance the meat inside is, in fact, Australian beef. It could just as easily contain rat, dog, horse or camel meat – or a mixture of them all. It’s gross and dangerous, but also costly.

Fraud in the global food industry is a multi-billion-dollar problem that has lingered for years, duping consumers and even making them ill. Food manufacturers around the world are concerned – as many as 39 percent of them are worried that their products could be easily counterfeited, and 40 percent say food fraud is hard to detect.

In researching blockchain for more than three years, I have become convinced that this technology’s potential to prevent fraud and strengthen security could fight agricultural fraud and improve food safety. Many companies agree, and are already running various tests, including tracking wine from grape to bottle and even following individual coffee beans through international trade.

Tracing food items

An early trial of a blockchain system to track food from farm to consumer was in 2016, when Walmart collected information about pork being raised in China, where consumers are rightly skeptical about sellers’ claims of what their food is and where it’s from. Employees at a pork farm scanned images of farm inspection reports and livestock health certificates, storing them in a secure online database where the records could not be deleted or modified – only added to.

As the animals moved from farm to slaughter to processing, packaging and then to stores, the drivers of the freight trucks played a key role. At each step, they would collect documents detailing the shipment, storage temperature and other inspections and safety reports, and official stamps as authorities reviewed them – just as they did normally. In Walmart’s test, however, the drivers would photograph those documents and upload them to the blockchain-based database. The company controlled the computers running the database, but government agencies’ systems could also be involved, to further ensure data integrity.

As the pork was packaged for sale, a sticker was put on each container, displaying a smartphone-readable code that would link to that meat’s record on the blockchain. Consumers could scan the code right in the store and assure themselves that they were buying exactly what they thought they were. More recent advances in the technology of the stickers themselves have made them more secure and counterfeitresistant.

Walmart did similar tests on mangoes imported to the U.S. from Latin America. The company found that it took only 2.2 seconds for consumers to find out an individual fruit’s weight, variety, growing location, time it was harvested, date it passed through U.S. customs, when and where it was sliced, which cold-storage facility the sliced mango was held in and for how long it waited before being delivered to a store….(More)”.

Startup Offers To Sequence Your Genome Free Of Charge, Then Let You Profit From It


Richard Harris at NPR: “A startup genetics company says it’s now offering to sequence your entire genome at no cost to you. In fact, you would own the data and may even be able to make money off it.

Nebula Genomics, created by the prominent Harvard geneticist George Church and his lab colleagues, seeks to upend the usual way genomic information is owned.

Today, companies like 23andMe make some of their money by scanning your genetic patterns and then selling that information to drug companies for use in research. (You choose whether to opt in.)

Church says his new enterprise leaves ownership and control of the data in an individual’s hands. And the genomic analysis Nebula will perform is much more detailed than what 23andMe and similar companies offer.

Nebula will do a full genome sequence, rather than a snapshot of key gene variants. That wider range of genetic information would makes the data more appealing to biologists and biotech and pharmaceutical companies….

Church’s approach is part of a trend that’s pushing back against the multibillion-dollar industry to buy and sell medical information. Right now, companies reap those profits and control the data.

“Patients should have the right to decide for themselves whether they want to share their medical data, and, if so, with whom,” Adam Tanner, at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, says in an email. “Efforts to empower people to fine-tune the fate of their medical information are a step in the right direction.” Tanner, author of a book on the subject of the trade in medical data, isn’t involved in Nebula.

The current system is “very paternalistic,” Church says. He aims to give people complete control over who gets access to their data, and let individuals decide whether or not to sell the information, and to whom.

“In this case, everything is private information, stored on your computer or a computer you designate,” Church says. It can be encrypted so nobody can read it, even you, if that’s what you want.

Drug companies interested in studying, say, diabetes patients would ask Nebula to identify people in their system who have the disease. Nebula would then identify those individuals by launching an encrypted search of participants.

People who have indicated they’re interested in selling their genetic data to a company would then be given the option of granting access to the information, along with medical data that person has designated.

Other companies are also springing up to help people control — and potentially profit from — their medical data. EncrypGen lets people offer up their genetic data, though customers have to provide their own DNA sequence. Hu-manity.co is also trying to establish a system in which people can sell their medical data to pharmaceutical companies….(More)”.

The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust


The Blockchain and the New Architecture of Trust

Book by Kevin Werbach: “The blockchain entered the world on January 3, 2009, introducing an innovative new trust architecture: an environment in which users trust a system—for example, a shared ledger of information—without necessarily trusting any of its components. The cryptocurrency Bitcoin is the most famous implementation of the blockchain, but hundreds of other companies have been founded and billions of dollars invested in similar applications since Bitcoin’s launch. Some see the blockchain as offering more opportunities for criminal behavior than benefits to society. In this book, Kevin Werbach shows how a technology resting on foundations of mutual mistrust can become trustworthy.

The blockchain, built on open software and decentralized foundations that allow anyone to participate, seems like a threat to any form of regulation. In fact, Werbach argues, law and the blockchain need each other. Blockchain systems that ignore law and governance are likely to fail, or to become outlaw technologies irrelevant to the mainstream economy. That, Werbach cautions, would be a tragic waste of potential. If, however, we recognize the blockchain as a kind of legal technology that shapes behavior in new ways, it can be harnessed to create tremendous business and social value….(More)”

When Ostrom Meets Blockchain: Exploring the Potentials of Blockchain for Commons Governance


Paper by David Rozas et all:  “Blockchain technologies have generated excitement, yet their potential to enable new forms of governanceremains largely unexplored. Two confronting standpoints dominate the emergent debate around blockchain-based governance: discourses characterised by the presence of techno-determinist and market-driven values, which tend to ignore the complexity of social organisation; and critical accounts of such discourses which, whilst contributing to identifying limitations, consider the role of traditional centralised institutions as inherently necessary to enable democratic forms of governance. Therefore the question arises, can we build perspectives of blockchain-based governance that go beyond markets and states? In this article we draw on the Nobel laureate economist Elinor Ostrom’s principles for self-governance of communities to explore the transformative potential of blockchain.

We approach blockchain through the identification and conceptualisation of affordances that this technology may provide to communities. For each affordance, we carry out a detailed analysis situating each in the context of Ostrom’s principles, considering both the potentials of algorithmic governance and the importance of incorporating communities’ social practices. The relationships found between these affordances and Ostrom’s principles allow us to provide a perspective focussed on blockchain-based commons governance. By carrying out this analysis, we aim to expand the debate from one dominated by a culture of competition to one that promotes a culture of cooperation….(More)”.

The Nail Finds a Hammer: Self-Sovereign Identity, Design Principles, and Property Rights in the Developing World


Report by Michael Graglia, Christopher Mellon and Tim Robustelli: “Our interest in identity systems was an inevitable outgrowth of our earlier work on blockchain-based1 land registries.2 Property registries, which at the simplest level are ledgers of who has which rights to which asset, require a very secure and reliable means of identifying both people and properties. In the course of investigating solutions to that problem, we began to appreciate the broader challenges of digital identity and its role in international development. And the more we learned about digital identity, the more convinced we became of the need for self-sovereign identity, or SSI. This model, and the underlying principles of identity which it incorporates, will be described in detail in this paper.

We believe that the great potential of SSI is that it can make identity in the digital world function more like identity in the physical world, in which every person has a unique and persistent identity which is represented to others by means of both their physical attributes and a collection of credentials attested to by various external sources of authority. These credentials are stored and controlled by the identity holder—typically in a wallet—and presented to different people for different reasons at the identity holder’s discretion. Crucially, the identity holder controls what information to present based on the environment, trust level, and type of interaction. Moreover, their fundamental identity persists even though the credentials by which it is represented may change over time.

The digital incarnation of this model has many benefits, including both greatly improved privacy and security, and the ability to create more trustworthy online spaces. Social media and news sites, for example, might limit participation to users with verified identities, excluding bots and impersonators.

The need for identification in the physical world varies based on location and social context. We expect to walk in relative anonymity down a busy city street, but will show a driver’s license to enter a bar, and both a driver’s license and a birth certificate to apply for a passport. There are different levels of ID and supporting documents required for each activity. But in each case, access to personal information is controlled by the user who may choose whether or not to share it.

Self-sovereign identity gives users complete control of their own identities and related personal data, which sits encrypted in distributed storage instead of being stored by a third party in a central database. In older, “federated identity” models, a single account—a Google account, for example—might be used to log in to a number of third-party sites, like news sites or social media platforms. But in this model a third party brokers all of these ID transactions, meaning that in exchange for the convenience of having to remember fewer passwords, the user must sacrifice a degree of privacy.

A real world equivalent would be having to ask the state to share a copy of your driver’s license with the bar every time you wanted to prove that you were over the age of 21. SSI, in contrast, gives the user a portable, digital credential (like a driver’s license or some other document that proves your age), the authenticity of which can be securely validated via cryptography without the recipient having to check with the authority that issued it. This means that while the credential can be used to access many different sites and services, there is no third-party broker to track the services to which the user is authenticating. Furthermore, cryptographic techniques called “zero-knowledge proofs” (ZKPs) can be used to prove possession of a credential without revealing the credential itself. This makes it possible, for example, for users to prove that they are over the age of 21 without having to share their actual birth dates, which are both sensitive information and irrelevant to a binary, yes-or-no ID transaction….(More)”.

Beyond democracy: could seasteads and cryptocurrencies replace the nation state?


Patri Friedman in The Spectator: “For the past 20 years I’ve been working to enable start-up societies: permanent autonomous zones on land or at sea intended to accelerate economic development and to serve as laboratories for voluntary political experiments.

For just as long (in fact since I first read The Sovereign Individual), I’ve been interested in the potential of digital cash, which is finally arriving in the form of bitcoin and the emerging cryptocurrency industry.

Start-up societies and cryptocurrencies have many parallels. Both grew from individualist movements seeking ways to take their philosophy from online message boards to the real world. Both seek to decentralise power in order to disrupt traditional institutions seen as having been captured by selfish elites. And both are critically dependent on ‘governance’ — the technology of designing and enforcing rules for collective decision-making.

Because of these parallels, people are often curious about how the two movements relate. Will seasteads — as manmade permanent dwellings at sea are known — use cryptocurrencies? Will blockchain projects such as Bitnation replace the nation state? In a world of competing virtual economic systems, do we even need to reform government in real life? (Answers: maybe, not soon and absolutely.)

There’s an old saying that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a week, but underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade. Similarly, I think people greatly overestimate the immediate impact of blockchain on startup countries, while underestimating the degree to which the fates of start-up countries and blockchain are ultimately intertwined.

In the near term, I don’t believe that blockchain will somehow enable start-up societies. The reason is simple: the hard thing about starting a new country is not the payment system. That’s why we live in a world with 1,000 cryptocurrencies but no sovereign micro-nations.

I’m also sceptical of the crypto-anarchy theory that rapidly evolving online institutions will somehow remove the need for improving offline ones. Physical space underpins virtual space, and most human activity still happens in physical space. Moreover, no matter how transcendently effulgent your networked life is, it can be ended by a single bullet. So the performance of your friendly neighbourhood nation state, with its monopoly on physical violence, still matters in the digital age…(More)”

The Nail Finds a Hammer: Self-Sovereign Identity, Design Principles, and Property Rights in the Developing World


Report by Michael Graglia, Christopher Mellon and Tim Robustelli: “Our interest in identity systems was an inevitable outgrowth of our earlier work on blockchain-based1 land registries.2 Property registries, which at the simplest level are ledgers of who has which rights to which asset, require a very secure and reliable means of identifying both people and properties. In the course of investigating solutions to that problem, we began to appreciate the broader challenges of digital identity and its role in international development. And the more we learned about digital identity, the more convinced we became of the need for self-sovereign identity, or SSI. This model, and the underlying principles of identity which it incorporates, will be described in detail in this paper.

We believe that the great potential of SSI is that it can make identity in the digital world function more like identity in the physical world, in which every person has a unique and persistent identity which is represented to others by means of both their physical attributes and a collection of credentials attested to by various external sources of authority. These credentials are stored and controlled by the identity holder—typically in a wallet—and presented to different people for different reasons at the identity holder’s discretion. Crucially, the identity holder controls what information to present based on the environment, trust level, and type of interaction. Moreover, their fundamental identity persists even though the credentials by which it is represented may change over time.

The digital incarnation of this model has many benefits, including both greatly improved privacy and security, and the ability to create more trustworthy online spaces. Social media and news sites, for example, might limit participation to users with verified identities, excluding bots and impersonators.

The need for identification in the physical world varies based on location and social context. We expect to walk in relative anonymity down a busy city street, but will show a driver’s license to enter a bar, and both a driver’s license and a birth certificate to apply for a passport. There are different levels of ID and supporting documents required for each activity. But in each case, access to personal information is controlled by the user who may choose whether or not to share it.

Self-sovereign identity gives users complete control of their own identities and related personal data, which sits encrypted in distributed storage instead of being stored by a third party in a central database. In older, “federated identity” models, a single account—a Google account, for example—might be used to log in to a number of third-party sites, like news sites or social media platforms. But in this model a third party brokers all of these ID transactions, meaning that in exchange for the convenience of having to remember fewer passwords, the user must sacrifice a degree of privacy.

A real world equivalent would be having to ask the state to share a copy of your driver’s license with the bar every time you wanted to prove that you were over the age of 21. SSI, in contrast, gives the user a portable, digital credential (like a driver’s license or some other document that proves your age), the authenticity of which can be securely validated via cryptography without the recipient having to check with the authority that issued it. This means that while the credential can be used to access many different sites and services, there is no third-party broker to track the services to which the user is authenticating. Furthermore, cryptographic techniques called “zero-knowledge proofs” (ZKPs) can be used to prove possession of a credential without revealing the credential itself. This makes it possible, for example, for users to prove that they are over the age of 21 without having to share their actual birth dates, which are both sensitive information and irrelevant to a binary, yes-or-no ID transaction….(More)”.

Blockchain Technologies for Social Change


Launch of New Platform and Field Report:

Screen Shot 2018-10-31 at 2.33.43 PM“Blockchain technologies are a new form of data disclosure technologies that have received extensive coverage and attention because of their potential to transform (or “disrupt”) industry sectors – ranging from financial services and publishing to supply chain management and real-estate. Additionally, blockchain is increasingly believed to be capable of positively empowering underserved populations in a myriad of ways – from improving service delivery for homeless people in New York City to bringing the “unbanked” into the global economy. As such, blockchain has been heralded as an avenue for creating positive social change, or “Blockchange.”

Yet for all the enthusiasm, we know very little about how blockchain can actually impact social change — what kinds of applications can serve what needs, what technological attributes matter most, what risks are involved, and under what conditions blockchain can have maximum social impact.

Exploring Three Application Areas

Today, the GovLab is launching the Blockchange platform: a hub for research and evidence into blockchain’s capacity to create social change. In particular, we are exploring the promise and practice of blockchain for creating societal benefits and addressing information asymmetries through three applications: improved identity management, smart contracting, and the ability to track and trace transactions. Blockchange features a repository of Curated Examples of projects that are actively seeking to leverage blockchain for social change across each of the these three areas, as well as efforts to create an ecosystem of blockchain use for societal benefit.

Focus on Identity

In addition, the platform provides access to our first Blockchange Field Report, which focuses on Blockchain’s potential and limitation for trusted identity management.

Of the three types of Blockchange applications, identity should be considered  foundational because it a) plays a prominent role in social change; b) underpins most other blockchange applications; and c) provides a necessary missing ID protocol layer of the Internet.

The field report, Blockchan.ge: Blockchain Technologies for Social Change – Field Report on the Emergent Use of Distributed Ledger Technologies for Identity Management, was developed through a yearlong exploration project supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Our initial analysis centered on the current theory, practice and dominant narratives in the blockchain and identity spaces – and at the nexus of the two….(More)”.