Blockchain technology could help government agencies simplify managing, accessing, using, and securing sensitive data. Image: AFP

At a time when data theft and cybercrime are a serious problem, blockchain, the digital record-keeping technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency networks, is a potential game changer in the wider world. Blockchain can significantly improve protection protocols by enabling fast and cost-efficient alternatives to safeguard sensitive police records. 

Last month, hackers claimed to have stolen the records of a billion Chinese citizens from the Shanghai police, which tech experts say, if true, would be one of the biggest data breaches in history.

Similarly, in 2021, hackers claimed to have stolen the data of thousands of police officers in Indonesia.

Even the US, one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations, was hit last year after the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, DC, became the victim of a ransomware attack on its servers.

Apart from exposing how vulnerable police records are, incidents where these hackers leak sensitive information not only result in a material loss but also cause a loss of public trust.

Indeed, maintaining and protecting data about citizens, organizations, assets and activities is a critical government function, but executing it can get complicated.  

Blockchain technology could help government agencies simplify managing, accessing, using, and securing sensitive data. An encoded digital ledger stored on multiple computers in a public or private network, blockchain combines data records, or “blocks,” into a chain that prevents the altering or deletion of data by a single actor.

These blocks are verified and managed through automation and shared governance protocols.

By protecting data on who owns, accesses, or uses them, blockchain can revolutionize the security of police records. The information-technology (IT) departments of government security agencies can create rules and algorithms predefining conditions of use by a third party trying to access a set of information sitting in a blockchain. 

In 2015, hackers broke down enormous amounts of encrypted data comprising the personal details, Social Security numbers, fingerprints, employment history, and financial information of about 20 million American citizens who had been subject to a background check by the US government. Blockchain technology could have thwarted such a breach, thanks to features that make tampering with data impossible.

Features like keyless signature infrastructure (KSI) create hash values, which uniquely represent large amounts of data as smaller numeric values. These hash values can be used to identify records without allowing any tinkering with information. The values, stored in a blockchain, can then be distributed across a private network of government computers, thereby keeping the data safe.

The Swedish government seems to have found the right solution to securing its most sensitive, high-stakes data using blockchain. The country is digitizing its land registry, worth 11 trillion kronor (US$1.1 trillion), through a mobile app whereby a blockchain can record detailed information on a sales transaction.

Other government agencies can learn from such efforts to create a secure infrastructure for tracking data access, thereby making it harder for any unauthorized entity to get hold of or manipulate information.

Clearly, blockchain can go a long way in restoring trust in the police and their ability to protect citizens’ data. Police and other government agencies should keep up with the times and recognize the potential for blockchain technology to revolutionize storing records.

Aisha Khan is a London-based political and financial analyst.