​Australia Post Accelerator prototyping blockchain potential

Australia Post Accelerator has begun exploring how blockchain technology can be used in areas of identity, registries, and e-voting.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Australia Post Accelerator has already begun exploring three potential areas in which it believes blockchain can be developed.

Speaking at the annual Technology in Government conference, Australia Post Accelerator partner Rick Wingfield explained the company has begun prototyping in the area of identity, registries, and e-voting.

In the identity space, Wingfield explained that using blockchain, the underlying system that facilitates transactions such as bitcoin trading, will help digitise the physical process of verifying a person's identity. He said the current process requires a lot of paperwork, especially given that Australia Post currently physically verifies about a quarter of the population every year on behalf of government agencies and corporations.

Wingfield said blockchain could be written to essentially create an audit log of identity transactions, which would be used to confirm a person has been verified by Australia Post through the usual 100-point identity check, which could then be reused without having to go back to the source or storing a person's private information.

Additionally, he believes it could be used as a central access station that can be easily retrieved if someone needs, for instance, to prove they are over the age of 18 to gain entry into a bar, without having to reveal to security their private information such as their date of birth, often found on their driver's license or passport.

"If we're going to successfully digitise the economy and the hard parts of the economy that haven't been digitised yet ... the hard things like health, education, and government services, those things require trust. If we're going to digitise some of those things, then we need to know someone is who they say they are," he said.

Wingfield noted, however, that while there are intentions to digitise people's private information, it also has to think about the security aspect of it, too.

"When we think about the blockchain, we don't want to take people's private information and put it on a public ledger because that would very quickly become a honey pot for scammers and hackers, and even if that data was encrypted that's probably not a good idea," he said.

"We do, however, think the technology has a really good use to creating a lot more control for the citizen; putting citizens in control of their data, and potentially using the two key infrastructure for citizens to jointly encrypt their data with whichever government, department, or corporate that owns that data, so it can only be unlocked with the two keys."

The incubation arm of Australia Post said it has also begun looking into how the public ledger nature of blockchain can simplify registry accreditation whether that's to verify someone is still licensed to drive a car, are able to operate heavy machinery, or can work with children.

"If you think about a driver's license, not the physical form of ID but what it is, it's an accreditation. It's something that says I'm allowed to drive a car, has a start date and end date, and has conditions provided I haven't gotten more than a certain amount of points," Wingfield said.

"If that was written somewhere publicly, and if every time I got demerit points and that was written publicly as well then third parties could verify in real time whether or not I was still allowed to drive a car, potentially the smart car could."

The final area the organisation is looking into is e-voting, with Wingfield saying that due to the pseudonymous nature of blockchain, people's votes will remain anonymous, much how the current voting system exists.

"You can't reverse engineer who somebody voted for and it's immutable and provides a ledger of all transactions," he said.

The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) is currently in the midst of building a new post-trade solution using blockchain technology.

At the start of the year, the ASX enlisted US-based firm Digital Asset to help it develop solutions for the Australian equity market using blockchain technology, the underlying system that facilitates transactions such as bitcoin trading.

The announcement was part of the ASX's plans, which it revealed last February, to replace or upgrade all of its main trading and post-trade platforms.

In March this year, the Australian government announced plans to remove the "double tax" treatment from those dealing in digital currency such as bitcoin.

In its report, Backing Australian FinTech, the government said it recognises that that the current treatment of digital currency under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) law means that consumers are double taxed when using digital currency to buy anything already subject to GST.

According to the government, blockchain technology has attracted considerable interest and is currently being applied to a number of areas within the international financial system. The government believes the technology has the potential to revolutionise key services like international transfers between banks, equities clearing and settlement, and financial contracts.

The federal government reaffirmed its plans for removing the double tax treatment as part of the 2016 Budget.

It released its GST Treatment of Digital Currency consultation paper that stated three options for changing how the GST impacts digital currencies: Input tax treatment similar to the UK and Europe where bitcoin is regarded as akin to share trading, loans, or exchanges of foreign currency; changing the definition of money in the GST Act to include bitcoin; or explicitly stating that bitcoin is GST free in the same manner that food is GST free.

However, the government said it needs to first work out a Goldilocks definition of digital currency that is suitable for it -- whether it be principles-based, or an explicit list of currencies that meet the definition.

Following the small mention in the federal government's Budget, Data 61, together with government agencies including Treasury, announced they were going to examine what blockchain technology could mean if it were adopted by both government and industry in Australia.

Similar discussions have previously been raised by the chairman of Australian Securities and Investment Commission Greg Medcraft, who has said the emergence of blockchain technology could -- if it takes off -- have the potential of changing the existing financial system.

"Naturally, harnessing this potential will depend on the integrity, capacity, and stability of blockchain technology and processes," he said.

"It will also depend on industry's willingness to invest in, and make use of, new ways of settling and registering transactions. The potential is, nonetheless, enormous. Industry is seeing that potential and is looking to see how it and the markets might benefit."

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