homeless (Olga Pinegina/Shutterstock.com)

Blockchain-based identity for the homeless

Austin, Texas, is exploring how blockchain could be used to give the city's homeless a digital identity they can use to secure personal records and access government resources.

Officials want to create a centralized database to keep track of identity and vital records for more than 7,000 homeless people in the city, replacing paper records with electronic encrypted versions. Blockchain would provide a decentralized authentication mechanism service providers could to tap into to access a person's benefits or medical history, according to TechCrunch.

The program began as a partnership between the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin and the city after Austin Chief Innovation Officer Kerry O’Connor learned how blockchain was helping refugees get humanitarian aid in Syria.

The distributed ledger technology could also help coordinate services delivery across approximately 60 organizations in Austin, including city departments and local non-profits, that address homelessness in some way.

“We’re really excited by the promise of blockchain being distributed in order to make a more seamless experience across these organizations,” O’Connor told CoinWire. “As part of our innovation work we have an advisory committee of people experiencing homelessness here in Austin, so we’ll be designing this with them, not for them, making sure that this can fit their context.”

The first stage of the project will determine the data profiles required for homeless individuals who opt-in and service providers. The second stage will focus on testing biometric systems that can verify an individual’s identity without a physical ID.

Blockchain is lately being considered as a solution for identity issues for marginalized populations. In March, Coca-Cola and the State Department announced a project to create a secure registry of workers designed to help combat the use of forced labor in the supply chain. In New York City, Blockchain for Change gives low-income individuals phones preloaded with the Fummi app that allows users to create a digital profile, after which they can interact with service providers through an online marketplace.

The Austin project was selected as a finalist in the 2018 Mayors Challenge from Bloomberg Philanthropies in February 2018. The nationwide competition distributed up to $100,000 to 35 cities to address local issues ranging from improving air quality to smart transit options.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at sfriedman@gcn.com or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.


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