University of Exeter: Blockchain has potential to redefine democracy and can support electoral law, an expert has said

The technology can help to deliver “meaningful, equitable, and more trustworthy democratic outcomes”, politicians have been told, but care must be taken that it isn’t only used to promote individual interests.

The transparency and traceability associated with blockchains could help to provide electoral regulatory scrutiny. The Elections Bill presently working its way through the Westminster parliament pays particular attention to digital imprinting to tackle issues with campaign transparency, and strengthening ID checks for more robust voter verification, especially in absentee votes.

In evidence – and recommendations made – to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain this week Dr Robert Herian, from the University of Exeter Law School, calls for “effective co-design” between lawmakers, regulators and technology stakeholders to ensure digital infrastructure and applications have clear and meaningful public purpose “beyond novelty, hype, or fiscal savings”.

Dr Herian told parliamentarians: “We invest a lot of energy in understanding the impact of blockchain on banking, finance, commodities, and investments. But blockchain has potential beyond the Bitcoin headlines, for network resiliency and security, transparency of records and traceability of data.

“Blockchain has the potential to support effective digital public services which benefit everyone and exclude no-one. In an ideal world, this goal is not only fiscal, but based on delivering meaningful, equitable, and more trustworthy democratic outcomes. And this is arguably more important than ever against a backdrop of democratic backsliding.

“But we shouldn’t lose sight of what is at stake from using technologies forged by anarcho-capitalist and high libertarian ambitions. At a conceptual level, we might say that consequences of this are a redefinition of democracy and the social contract rooted in perceptions of untrustworthy political institutions.”

Dr Herian warned technologies such as blockchain can be used to promote individual interests instead of those of communities or countries. Major problems with digital infrastructure will also need to be solved.

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