Technology has revolutionised almost every aspect of our lives, all except one. The single most important area. The one which has the potential to address almost every major issue facing the world. Our political system.
There have historically been valid concerns surrounding the privacy & security of digital democracy. However it’s worth remembering that all money has been almost entirely digitalised for decades without any major incident. If technology can be trusted to manage all of our money & assets as well as running the entire global financial system, then surely it can be trusted to enable direct participation in the democratic process.
The only credible argument against the the digitisation of the democratic process has been security and privacy concerns. However, the advent of blockchain and cryptography has removed any remaining concerns.
The only reason technology isn’t being more widely embraced to improve the political system is because it threatens the power and control of those that currently have it.
The security concerns have, for a long time, been easy to overcome. The fact most of us conduct our banking online through mobile apps or cash points shows that highly valuable assets can be managed digitally without serious security concerns.
A bigger challenge has always been privacy. The current paper based way of voting helps guarantee that privacy in a way digital voting couldn’t. A digital footprint means hackers or the governments that operated the platforms could see how you voted if they so wanted.
The blockchain has solved this problem. It uses a military grade level of encryption known as elliptic curve cryptography (ECC). This means you can vote or take any action without compromising your privacy. This same level of privacy applies to anything in the blockchain, it allows your information to stored across millions of distributed devices without concern.
Blockchain for democracy
Blockchain is a global distributed ledger that is processed on millions of devices simultaneously. These devices are known as miners and each miner gets paid if the process the ledger first so they are incentivised to act swiftly. Because it’s across so many devices it makes hacking impossible. It’s this technology that underpins bitcoin, the cryptocurrency that’s growing in popularity.
The ledger or database is open to anyone and can store information about money, contracts, titles, deeds, birth certificates, identities, and even votes. In addition to storing information it can also automatically execute whatever is contained within the ledger. In other words its a smart contract. For example, it could be to automatically pay someone as soon as the pre-agreed conditions of the contract where met.
This can remove a huge amount of risk and wasted administration costs from huge parts of our society.
One of the most important elements of blockchain is how it can democratise almost all aspects of our lives. It’s a distributed network, which means it doesn’t require powerful centralised intermediaries like banks and governments to store, validate, and control these areas of our lives.
Block chain technology has a number of huge benefits:
- Transparency: It supports the adoption of total transparency. With it we can get full visibility from our elected representatives and public organisations, thus preventing governments and the police conducting cover ups. Also when casting our vote, we can use the blockchain to see that our vote was registered the way we cast it without compromising our privacy.
- Ownership: We get to own and manage our identities without needing a nation state to do this for us. The blockchain can be used to store our passports, birth certificates, drivers licences, voter ID cards, social security cards, and more. In less developed countries this can be even more valuable.
- Decentralised: Removes the reliance on powerful centralised intermediaries who all too often abuse their power to manipulate the public. For example, it can replace the entirely corrupt and biggest financial systems with a decentralised and sustainable financial system.
- Privacy & Liberty: As mentioned previously, the encryption ensures you can get privacy and it can also ensure a free press. Giving us ways of communicating with each other that can’t be spied on by states or corporations.
There is an organisation in the US called followmyvote.com that has developed a secure voting system based on blockchain technology. They are in the process of running a parallel election in the US as a proof of concept.
Their focus on is on creating a digital version of the current electoral process, which is without doubt a major step forward. It’s a really important first step but it’s like using the Watson supercomputer as a bedside alarm clock or restricting the internet so that it can only publish pdf versions of newspapers.
The political process is so outdated it needs major reform. It can be used to realise the original promise of democracy, giving the public the option of direct and participative democracy. Signing a light on the governments and their various departments by moving them to open systems and ways of working to give total transparency.
Resistance to change
Sadly, I very much doubt the emergence of blockchain and cryptography will stop security concerns from being used as an excuse for not embracing new platforms and process. The powerful individuals that stand to lose their power & control will almost certainly attempt to play on people’s fears. Even funding efforts to undermine the security of digital democracy.; using their vast resources to fund ad campaigns or hire black hat hackers to conduct DDoS attacks to undermine public confidence.
But they can’t hold back the tide forever. What’s more, we aren’t just proposing a digital channel just to be used to vote once every few years. We are proposing digital to be used to reinvent the entire political system with constant public engagement in the political process. A one off event, like a national vote, every few years is far more vulnerable to attack that an always “on” approach to democracy.
Register your support now by signing the petition on change.org