PART 2. Blockchain Technology As A Document Management Tool
By IMBA-Exchange on Altcoin Academy
In Estonia, a trusted third party interface to the blockchain system has been connected to the basic X-Road interdepartmental interaction system, which allows any public authority to use this service for the purposes it needs. The main task, which was solved at the same time, was to ensure reliable control of the integrity and authenticity of the information in state systems in view of possible cyber attacks.
As a result, the blockchain system de facto performs the functions of a trusted timestamp service provider. This provides an additional level of control over the integrity and authenticity of documents and information. The documents themselves, however, are not placed in the blockchain solution.
In particular, the blockchain is used to document information about who had access to documents about the health of citizens of the country.
In Estonia use “Infrastructure signature without using key” (Keyless Signature Infrastructure, KSI) firms Giardtime) — KSI Blockchain — e-Estonia.
At the recently held in Croatia conference INFuture, 2017 Estonian representatives reported that the popular technology “blockchain”, which is the basis of the most famous cryptocurrency and whose usefulness is now being studied and tested by the world’s largest banks and governments, has been used for some time in the public systems of Estonia. This allows every Estonian to check at any time which public authority has access to his / her electronic data, and any such access to personal data is documented, as this ensures the transparency, security, and authenticity of the data.
At the DLM forum 2017 conference, Kuldar AAS, Deputy Director of the electronic archive of the National archives of Estonia (Kuldar Aas), spoke about the already accumulated national experience in the use of blockchain systems in such areas as e-health, land cadastre and registers of legal entities, wills — and raised the question that it is also time for archivists to get acquainted with this technology and assess its potential for solving the problem of ensuring the long-term preservation of electronic materials.
According to him, national security requirements require the use of electronic medical systems hash chains to ensure data integrity. Blockchain has been used in this area since 2015. The documents themselves are not stored in the blockchain, they contain root hashes, one for each document, which can consist of a number of files and metadata.
Speaking about medical systems, Kuldar AAS noted the problem of volumes: even in small Estonia, 40 thousand documents are added daily, all of which are signed by the Estonian EDS, and about a million transactions are carried out.
Estonians in practice faced the need to delete/replace documents. This issue is solved with the help of reversing records. Since only the root hashes are stored in the blockchain, there are no problems because of this.
As a result, the blockchain is considered as an additional “layer” of security over the traditionally used hashes and electronic digital signatures. It serves to control the integrity of data. There is a third-party integrity check that protects against the risk of misconduct on the part of the administrator.
Among the problems of the blockchain, Kuldar mentioned the issue of personal data protection, scalability, and costs, resilience and “origin” (the country is thinking about its own system).
In his opinion, the blockchain can be used in the field of long-term security, the blockchain can be used to store information that ensures integrity (instead of hashes and electronic digital signatures); to store metadata confirming the integrity of the actions performed to ensure long-term security (such as migration); and as an additional level of protection in the case of off-site storage or migration to another platform.
The Experience Of Georgia
Georgia relies heavily on the experience of Estonia, and currently the most ambitious is the project to protect transactions in the land registry with the help of a solution on the Bitcoin platform. For this purpose the decision of the company BitFury.
In April 2017, the head of BitFury Valery Vavilov at the conference of the Russian Internet forum “REEF+CIB 2017” announced the registration of the first 100 thousand documents in the blockchain.
Research In Canada
Currently, the organizational center for international research on the possibilities of using blockchain solutions in document management and archival business is the international project InterPARES Trust and its “basic” organization — the University of British Columbia (Canada), which have a significant impact, including on the work of the ISO TC307 technical Committee on blockchain.
It should be noted here that the project “Using blockchain technology for document management — help or hype?”(Blockchain Technology for Recordkeeping — Help or Hype?), which was carried out under the leadership of the famous Canadian specialist Victoria Lemieux (Victoria Lemieux), Director of the center for the study of electronic financial documents (Centre for the Investigation of Financial Electronic Records, CiFER) University of British Columbia.
According to the results of their research, the authors made the following conclusions.
- Blockchain technology often described as a technology for maintaining a distributed and ever-growing unchangeable transaction register, is a document management technology, in the sense of archival science, to the same extent as it is an asset transfer technology.
- Many existing and proposed applications of blockchain technology are aimed at solving the problems of documentation; they offer a new way of forming, using, storing documents and/or controlling them. For example, blockchain technology seeks to change the way documents are authenticated: from relying on a trusted third party to a system-based authentication method.
- The expectations associated with the use of blockchain technology for document management purposes are in some cases overstated. As an example, we can cite blockchain solutions that allegedly provide archival storage of documents, that is, ensuring the legal significance, authenticity, integrity of electronic documents for a long time. And in fact, only store documents or do not provide their long-term availability.
- Apparently, the blockchain community has a weak understanding of the theory, principles, and practice of archival science (the science of management and preservation of documents), office requirements and standards developed on their basis. Closer interaction between the archive and document management and blockchain communities will help to raise such awareness.
- Despite the fact that blockchain technology is essentially a documentation technology and that there are many new projects that focus on the use of this technology in document management applications, there is relatively little research on the implications of blockchain technology for document management. There is virtually no cooperation between academia and the blockchain industry in the application of blockchain technology for documentation purposes.
- Since blockchain technology is a document management technology, its further development would benefit from the application of theoretical and practical knowledge accumulated by archival science.
The blockchain technology leads to the emergence of new forms of documents that should be managed as legally relevant evidence along with other documents, in order to meet business and social needs. It is included in the decision of questions on how to work with blockchain-documents in accordance with the law of Canada regarding the evidence and how best to provide long-term maintaining their authenticity and availability as evidence.
- Analysis of the impact of blockchain technology on financial stability should find out whether the widespread use of this technology for documentation can become a channel for spreading instability.
- There is growing support for the idea of introducing technical standards related to blockchain technology. Standards that focus on the use of this technology for document management can help ensure that existing business solutions and requirements are “embedded” in blockchain technology.
In this regard, it was recommended to conduct interdisciplinary research, combining the experience and knowledge of representatives of the legal, economic, archival Sciences, experts in the field of diplomacy, electronic forensics, computer and Information Sciences with the experience of innovative blockchain companies and solution providers. In particular, such a study could commence with the application of current archival theories, principles, and practices for the identification and subsequent mitigation for long-term preservation and accessibility of credible documents generated or saved using the technology of the blockchain.
Research In The UK
The British project of creation of trusted archives of state electronic documents “Archangel” (ARCHANGEL — Trusted Archives of Digital Public Records), carried out on the basis of the University of Surrey, deserves attention.
The Archangel project website notes that it is an 18-month socio-technical study of existing opportunities, involving participation in the creation and evaluation of a prototype of a new DLT service together with end-users, to determine how archival practices, resilient models and public attitudes can evolve with reliable decentralized technology that confirms the integrity of content and provides open access to electronic public archives.
From a technological point of view, the Archangel project will use the latest machine learning technologies to collect reliable electronic digital signatures, obtained on the basis of initially electronic and digitized analog content, within the framework of the DLT system with a limited number of participants (permitted DLT).
The DLT system will store both hashes and code to represent the content and verify its origin and integrity. New business models will be studied to ensure the viability of DLT, for example, through perfect computational work (proof of work) at the points of creation and consumption, using a model of interaction of institutions of memory preservation, in which a single DLT-system involves numerous institutions of memory preservation related to different disciplines and Nations, which reduces the risk of distortion of archival materials stored by their institution.
The created solution can be used not only by traditional institutions of memory preservation but also by any public electronic archives:
- University repositories of research data (in conjunction with DOI-identifiers);
- To better manage corporate memory in multinational companies (for example, to comply with financial and other regulatory requirements, to manage inherited technical documentation in technology companies).
To date, some successful experience has been gained in using blockchain solutions to ensure the integrity and authenticity of documents, information and control information (audit logs) in the short term. The solutions currently used, however, are not well thought out in terms of their long-term and permanent use (which is particularly important, for example, for land cadastres). There is no judicial practice confirming their effectiveness as a tool for defending the rights of interested parties.
An interesting fact is that the practical application found in the first place solutions created for public authorities.
So far, there is no practical experience of storing documents and information in blockchain systems. On the one hand, such storage will immediately lead to a rapid increase in the volume of information in the registry and will actually make it impossible to make public decisions with millions of participants such as Bitcoin (that is, nullify the key element of the ideology of distributed registries). On the other hand, in modern conditions, it is very problematic in legal terms to store personal data in such systems.
Like any other technology, the technology of blockchain and distributed registries is a tool that is neutral in itself and can be used for both good and harm. Its potential, which is currently being exaggerated and subsequently, after the collapse of a number of blockchain pyramids, is likely to be as vigorously denied, however, is quite real — as well as the risks associated with it.
The efficiency of this technology has already been proven in practice, so it remains only to find suitable niches for its application and to provide appropriate control and management mechanisms that prevent its use for illegal purposes.
It is necessary to continue to study the possibilities of this technology, connecting to international efforts in this direction. At the same time, it is necessary to study the question of why in certain cases traditional systems are inferior to the blockchain and how it is possible to restructure business processes and the legislative and regulatory framework so as to make them competitive again.
It is necessary to study the consequences of the use of real blockchain systems in the activities of state bodies and commercial organizations in order to timely identify positive and negative factors and develop control and management measures that help reduce risks.
Blockchain technology is primarily a tool for conducting operational business activities, although, as for any such tool, documenting and ensuring the safety of documents and information is of great importance. At the moment, blockchain solutions, like many other business information systems, do not have a full set of functionality for document management, which is offered by developed EDMS/ECM-systems.
Currently, the technology is obviously not ready to guarantee the long-term safety of legally significant information and documents at intervals of about 10 years or more, so its use for archival purposes is associated with serious risks. It can be used in the presence of a solid legislative and regulatory framework and the formation of judicial practice in the management of documents in the short and medium-term.
At the same time, it makes sense to track the progress and success of the currently available attempts to exploit the technology of distributed registries for the purposes of ensuring the credibility of the business and archival documents. While it is possible to say that the technology of the blockchain for the purposes of document management and archives, you can try to use it only as an experiment, and not rely only on one and “hedging” by parallel use of traditional technologies.
It seems that in the future the most likely and promising is the development of hybrid systems that combine elements of traditional centralized systems and elements of DLT-systems.