How states can use blockchain for data and rein in national security threats

In Kenya, blockchain’s bitcoin has not gotten a free ride. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Governments through their ICT ministries could immensely benefit from the new disrupting technology blockchain and biometrics in easing registration and identification of persons, secure integrity of mass data management, and used as a safety net to track and flush out criminal elements, a new book suggests.

A combination of the two technologies, the book suggests, can seamlessly be applied alongside pre-approved digitised identification to authorise passengers access the airports and borders, store critical data and help track holders.

The system is also designed to verify individual passengers via a three-dimension scan through a short tunnel where they go to pick their luggage and only allow holders to control who can see their identification information. Used on blockchain’s platform, its immutability features, would then make such a database impenetrable by criminals.

“Data is undoubtedly the lifeblood of any effective institution such as government. However, what has been defined as effective data management for many years has actually not been as effective as the name suggests because it has many times been fragmented, penetrated or the stored data lost mysteriously.

“Data has also been at the mercy of a few government officials (and criminals) where if it negates the wishes of individual officials, it’s struck out of the system without a trace or the system doctored. This is where blockchain comes in,” states extract from the book.


The book, Understanding the Blockchain, authored by technology expert Benjamin Arunda and released last November, barely two months before terror attack struck Dusit D2 on Riverside drive Nairobi that killed 24 people and injured several others, pens an in-depth overview of how blockchain can be used to enhance security through the digitised technology combined with impermeable database on its public platform.

The attack that has since been owned by international terror group Al-Shabaab, prompted President Uhuru Kenyatta to order swift measures to nab the menace including tightening screws on war against terror when he issued an executive order that Kenyans in the country to undergo a fresh documentation screening process for a national integrated system that enables a single source identification to include even citizens below 18 years. The exercise, he says, will enable the authorities to obtain critical data bank that will help ease tracking criminal activities and to help restore safety in the country and its borders.

Speaking to DigitalBusiness recently, Mr Arunda said that the reason why governments want visitors entering their borders to produce a passport is because through those passports they could track their entry and exit. However, he says, it may be difficult to know which foreigners are in the country if an access control system like passport verification is not used. “This is where blockchain comes in,” he said.

The author further suggested that the government, intergovernmental or multi-national organisations such as the United Nations should create global consortiums of blockchains where identifications data and stray record of citizens and visitors are put into a distributed public database.

National governments can then log on all the data for their citizens and keep adding to their new transactions; for instance, when a person is found guilty for a crime by a court of jurisdiction, such details can be entered into the blockchain.

“The fear of admitting a criminal into the country’s borders has also made governments stricter with the immigration process. But come to think of it, can paper passports really sufficiently reveal whether or not someone is a criminal? It may never be perfect because humans, who are emotional beings, can never be totally be eliminated from the system,” he says.

Arunda is optimistic that the new innovation is poised to be a game-changer in ensuring secure security systems, saying that it has worked and being currently being implemented in other institutions including governments of Finland and United Arab Emirates to manage immigration and rid criminal activities.

The question of immigrants has been a burden on the back of many countries, not just in Kenya and Africa, but across the world. Security has been a major concern as the country’s intelligence revealed that those camps have been turned into hiding holes by terrorists and offer transit havens for weapons transported from neighbouring war-torn Somalia.

Fresh UNHCR statistics show that 471,724 refugees in Kenya as at December 31, 2018. Almost half of the refugees in Kenya 44 per cent reside in Dadaab, 40 per cent in Kakuma – camps in north eastern Kenya bordering Somalia - and 16 per cent in urban areas (mainly Nairobi), alongside 18,500 stateless persons.

Following the terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi it was reported that the weapons used were transported across the border from Somalia via the refugee camps located near Kenya-Somalia border. The revelations prompted Deputy President William Ruto to order closure of the camps to flush out the criminals and subsequently forced repatriation of refugees, who were mostly Somalis, an order that was bitterly contested by the UNHCR, among other international humanitarian bodies arguing that it contravened UN and international laws.

However, technology is offering a solution that could tighten loose screws on such criminal activities and secure border entry points. According to the book Microsoft and Accenture have already developed an application that combines data such as fingerprint or iris scans and blockchain to create permanent identity for refugees that can be used on blockchain platform.

It is working in Finland, as it has already adopted a blockchain-based system to solve the problem of refugee identification. The country also uses a blockchain-based debit card which is issued to asylum seekers instead of giving refugees cash thus enabling them to manage refugee crisis and keep abreast with their activities.

It further shows that in Dubai, digitising passports is already becoming a reality. The United Arab Emirates government, in partnership with a UK-based startup ObjectTech, is working on a blockchain security at the Emirates International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world, to digitise passports and thus eliminate physical security checks at the airport.

Inside the digitisation system, an interesting feature of the passport known as ‘self-sovereign identity’, will allow passengers to protect their privacy by allowing them to control who can see their passport information. This feature can limit fraud that goes on in airports using reproduced fake passports. Dubai is expected to begin testing the technology in 2020. “This is evident that blockchain is applicable in the immigration department,” the book states.

The author is optimistic that such security system will one day be implemented in Kenya where all essential identification documents such as IDs, passports, birth certificates, driving licences, employment details, criminal records, marriage certificates, among others, are merged into one (impenetrable) digital card system. “Imagine carrying only one small card in your wallet that contains everything you need,” he poses.

In Kenya, blockchain’s bitcoin has not gotten a free ride, it has faced resistance from senior people in key regulatory organisation.

Much of these resistance to cryptocurrencies are as a result of low awareness of what blockchain really is. Many people including senior government officials and corporate opinion leaders have neither understood the blockchain technology nor the cryptocurrencies," it bemoans.

“Governments need information in order to provide and protect their citizens through policies, laws, public services and programmes. Governments are currently trying to test blockchain systems which they can use to collect sensitive data from individual citizens and allow them to have direct control over their personal information.”