back to article Trial to store benefits claimants' personal data on blockchain slammed

A government experiment to store the information of benefits claimants using blockchain tech has been slammed by experts, who have warned it could expose highly sensitive personal data. London-based fintech company GovCoin Systems has partnered with Barclays, RWE npower and University College London to trial blockchain …

  1. JimmyPage
    Big Brother

    Misdirection

    Any competently instantiated blockchain should be cryptographically secure. Personal details on the blockchain wouldn't worry me.

    Far more sinister is the emergence of a parallel currency - BenefitCoin - and an infrastructure like blockchain which enforces Smart Contracts.

    Could this be the final destination for Project Tory. A real two-tier society ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Misdirection

      This should re-open the question of whether we should allow people living on the benevolence of the state should be allowed to spend other people's money on booze.

      1. Jon 37 Silver badge

        Re: Misdirection

        The main problem with "you can't spend it on booze" is it rapidly becomes "you can only spend on this approved list". And in the real world, there will be plenty of people who need stuff that's not on that list - no matter how comprehensive you try to make the list. And suppliers on the approved list can charge more, because people can't go to the cheaper non-approved suppliers. And many of the cheaper non-approved suppliers are going to decide they don't want the hassle of getting approved.

        So people on benefits end up paying MORE for their goods than everyone else.

        Also, what's wrong with a family on welfare having a traditional Christmas with home-made Christmas cake and Christmas pudding that contain brandy?

      2. Christoph

        Re: Misdirection

        "This should re-open the question of whether we should allow people living on the benevolence of the state should be allowed to spend other people's money on booze."

        Benevolence of the state? No, the money paid as National Insurance against the possibility of various misfortunes. Other people's money? No, the money paid out from the common fund to those who suffer misfortune.

        If someone's house burnt down, would you demand control over the exact details of what they are allowed to spend their insurance money on because it comes from other people who did not suffer fires?

        If someone is earning money they are entirely free to spend that money on whatever legal thing they want, people would be horrified at attempts to control that . As adult members of society they are assumed to have the ability to handle their own affairs. If they want to spend the money on booze that is entirely their choice.

        Yet the moment they have problems and need support it is assumed that they instantaneously loose all ability to handle their own affairs and to choose what to spend money on - that they must be looked after for their own good, and their spending controlled by people who have never been in that situation and have no experience of the problems they have to cope with. A one-size-fits-all solution that applies the same rules regardless of who they are, where they live, what their circumstances are, what resources they have available. Mummy knows best and they must grovel and obey while being sneered at.

        Someone on benefits is just as competent as when they were earning, and has quite enough problems to cope with without officious intervention from do-gooders revelling in grinding them down further, and demanding that They Must Not Have Any Nice Things - anything that could possibly be considered a luxury or not absolutely necessary gets snatched away from them so they have no relief whatever from utter destitution.

        For their own good? No, for the sadistic enjoyment of their self-appointed 'betters'.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Misdirection

          I'm not saying it should be immediate, perhaps after one year. In most countries benefits don't go on forever. I think that is barbaric. But I do think that if you're on the dole long term, then restrictions should be placed on what you can spend it on.

          It wouldn't be a whitelist, but it a blacklist. So only a limited amount of booze, no pay TV subscriptions. No cigarettes. I'm sure there are other things.

          No cash withdrawals and a normal debit-card looking card for purchases.

          It's not that they're incapable of handling their own affairs, it's that they are abusing a system which is supposed to be a temporary safety net.

          1. chris 17 Silver badge

            Re: Misdirection

            would encourage many to get a job to pay for those luxury's the state won't pay for.

      3. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

        Re: Misdirection

        "Pssst. You give me, say, 30 quids worth of groceries and I'll give you this tenner of cold, hard, untraceable cash."

        1. chris 17 Silver badge

          Re: Misdirection

          Don't see how that would be profitable, don't forget the shop would have to pay tax on that income they received from HMRC, on goods they never received to sell. I'm sure some will try it on but........

    2. streaky

      Re: Misdirection

      Any competently instantiated blockchain should be cryptographically secure.

      This is utterly untrue. Blockchain attests data it doesn't secure it against reading (you could crypt the data you push into it though but that would be very unsmart)

      Also not for nothing but storing personal data permanently and indestructably (even if it was secured) in a blockchain is obviously illegal in EU and (as it stands today) UK law soooooo...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Misdirection

      Blockchains use cryptography to enforce data integrity not data access, all data is replicated to all nodes that control the consensus of the integrity of the data. Blockchains do not hide their data they share their data openly so that it can be verified as being the correct version of the truth.

      If the government used a blockchain to distribute grants and benefits as well as collect taxes then it could potentially provide an anonymous open public record of transactions with government.

    4. cantankerous swineherd

      Re: Misdirection

      "cryptographically secure"

      glwt.

  2. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

    The only two parties involved are the DWP, who have the records, and you, who wants to see them.

    1. kmac499

      Re: Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

      I think we're back in the land of secrecy, privacy and anonymity.

      Secrecy is never divulge entrusted data to anyone,

      Privacy I reserve my data to myself, which becomes secret if I choose to share it with others

      Anonymity is when I can identify myself as authorised but not identified, tracked or recorded.

      If I was able to throw in to the chain details of other documents such as a passport or driving licence the real benefit of any such scheme would be the proof of identity it could offer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

        So it turns into a virtual ID card for benefit claimants who have no choice but to accept it.

        Anyone lucky enough to get out of the benefits system will have all this expensively maintained blockchain data flapping around, the state will be extremely reluctant to delete it and will find good logical reasons to keep adding to it, just in case.

        And once we have the case of this blockchain data proving useful for those not on benefits it will be extended to everyone.

        Yet another ID cards by the back door scheme, albeit virtual ID cards

    2. JimmyPage
      Big Brother

      Re: Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

      If you need to ask that question you don't understand blockchain.

      (Don't worry, few do).

      blockchain is not just distributed database. Well, it can be, but even emerging platforms such as Ethereum aren['t.

      Blockchain is a state machine, capable of processing transactions - data *and* instructions autonomously.

      When you realise that, you realise why the lawyers and governments are sniffing around. A properly created blockchain SmartContract is effectively a program which can transfer, unlock and lock "money".

      In the example in the article, you could send a claimant their benefits as a SmartContract which can *only* be honoured by a certain retailer, in exchange for certain goods.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

        "capable of processing transactions"

        We've had that for millennia. It's called money. There's only one reason for using blockchain: fashion.

        1. JimmyPage
          Facepalm

          Re: Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

          you know what I said about not everyone getting it ?

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

            So blockchains will allow food stamps 2.0 as well as utility stamps, but not Oddbins or Amazon stamps. Yet you could buy cheaper food from Amazon or markets (cash), only you won't be able to. And I suppose itemised shopping lists will plop out the computers at the DWP.

            I can't see people opting into this, unless perhaps they do an advert similar to the one about smart meters for a while before telling everyone they're having them anyway. But society would have had to have gone practically cashless anyway for it to work otherwise people would be excluded.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

            "you know what I said about not everyone getting it ?"

            When dealing with the DWP never attribute to craftiness that which can be attributed to stupidity. A former colleague in a project where we dealt with them summed them up: "not the sharpest knives in the box".

    3. MarBru

      Re: Why would the DWP need to use a blockchain?

      "The only two parties involved are the DWP, who have the records, and you, who wants to see them."

      And the security apparatus of the State of course...

      We all know that they are good and look after our interests.

      Here in fairy-land we do not worry about power-madness.

  3. Christoph

    "It would be possible - with agreement from the benefit claimant in question - to set rules at both the recipient and merchant ends of welfare transactions"

    Just how long will the bit about "agreement from the benefit claimant" last? They lie in their teeth.

    1. Nasruddin
      Pint

      Universal Credit is paid to (some) workers on low wages. It includes a claimant commitment and sanctions for non-compliance. How long before the data stops being anonymous and after a long day at work you have to take your benefit card to the chosen shop and know that your personal adviser is checking to see that you have bought healthily. Pie - no, chubby, you'll be sanctioned. Fat people work less hard. Condoms? But you said you were single. We need to investigate.

      Beer. While we still can.

  4. David Roberts
    Big Brother

    Another confused person

    My limited understanding of Bitcoin and the like is that there is a permanent record of every transaction which can be read by all but not changed, just added to.

    Anonymity is preserved by the user being a crypto signature with no personal details. However this relies on all transactions being on line. As far as I know you don't walk into the bank with a Bitcoin card, or pay in a shop with a Bitcoin card because then you create a physical link in the real world between yourself and the wallet.

    Once you have tied the real person to the crypto id then you can look back at history and know more about the real person.

    I assume that this Benefitcoin would be used to pay rent, utility bills and other outgoings tied to a real person and a real address.

    The information in the blockchain could be encrypted, but what use is it if you can't decrypt it to authorise payment or administer it as the government issuer?

    The only reason for this that I can see is to control what the money is spent on. This does not tie in with complete confidentiality. It does give the government enormous control over claimants and the ability to impose policy at whim. It does not seem to provide complete anonymity for the claimant.

    TL;DR Police State

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: Another confused person

      "As far as I know you don't walk into the bank with a Bitcoin card, or pay in a shop with a Bitcoin card because then you create a physical link in the real world between yourself and the wallet."

      There are vendors who offer the option to do exactly that.

      Cryptopay

      e-coin / wirexapp

      Xapo

      There are several others also.

  5. cantankerous swineherd

    DWP doing their despicable best.

  6. batfastad

    Why?

    Shiny.

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