New technologies to service SSR: the Blockchain and its multiple applications

by Etienne Sompairac · September 12th, 2018.

As an ever-evolving cross-structural sector, SSR needs to keep up with new trends so as to provide better solutions to institutions and develop more efficient processes. This includes recognising the potential of using new technologies to service SSR and building on these to implement sustainable reforms.  The pillars of a successful Security Sector Reform (SSR) process are transparency and accountability. This blog argues that these two features can be put into practice by integrating blockchain to the process. This blog’s aim is not to answer every question but rather to initiate a debate. The blockchain’s implementation to the security sector will depend on experts’ creativity and set priorities. This call for discussion approaches budgetary control issues and the need for transparency and accountability when tackling corruption. However, the blockchain could become a remedy to other structural and organisational challenges such as the compilation of statistics, public contracting, staff, material and information management, inter-services coordination and much more. The first application of the blockchain to the defense sector, a secure messaging app providing a non-hackable platform for the U.S. military, is an illustration of the technology's reliability.

In short, the blockchain is a decentralized ledger system administered by a predetermined network of actors that enables the recording of data transfers. The data is contained in connected “blocks” which are sealed by a unique cryptographic key for each block. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be retrospectively modified without altering all subsequent blocks. It means that data cannot be transformed nor hidden from the network, a valuable asset when one wishes to ensure transparency and accountability while using a cost-effective and accurate technology. Ultimately, the blockchain’s usefulness emerges when it comes to processing and managing substantial database. It is a reliable, cheap and easy-to-use tool that is transparent and immutable.  

A recurrent issue in the security sector that is difficult to tackle is corruption. Applying the blockchain technology to budgeting and resources allocation would enable all involved actors to keep track of where the money is going and what it is being used for. To exert their scrutiny rights, control bodies could be associated with the process by being part of the network. As the record of transactions would be unalterable and the information available to all network members, embezzlement would prove to be much more challenging. Although the method has not yet been fully applied to the security sector yet, there are some government initiatives using it to tackle fraud and corruption, especially regarding land title management and business registration. For instance, in Brazil, many government services integrated the blockchain through the Serpro  platform while, in Georgia, the blockchain was integrated to the National Agency of Public Registry. Both platforms were used to establish a public register guaranteeing the data’s integrity which could help to prevent future disputes or frauds.

It would also allow authorities to tackle another damaging issue to the security sector reform: institutional distrust. By reinforcing transparency and ensuring records-tracking involving multiple actors, institutions at the heart of the process would not only gain legitimacy internally but also in the eyes of the public. As such, they would gain greater support and room for manoeuvre, face less defiance and optimise the system as a whole through a better image and thus, gain greater operational capacity. Transparency is a milestone for the successful implementation of SSR and applying blockchain technology to the sector would ensure that it is fully enforced.

Ensuring the sector’s full transparency goes hand in hand with accountability. Once transparency is achieved, holding concerned actors accountable would be facilitated. On one hand, involved parties will be naturally deterred from undertaking misappropriate actions as they will be aware of the scrutinising system in place. On the other hand, if one does engage in such actions, the data entered in the network would eventually come under the scrutiny of oversight bodies and then, they could be personally held responsible. Additionally, this could help to end the practice of overcharging. For instance, Mexico has developed a blockchain platform to handle public contracting and eliminate the sector’s rampant corruption.

To develop and implement a wider use of blockchain technology in the field of SSR, I suggest these would be the steps to follow:

1-      Raise awareness on the blockchain opportunities in the SSR process

2-      Engage with SSR experts in a discussion on what would be its most promising applications

3-      Build partnerships with governmental institutions

4-      Develop protocols, institutional structures and set in place the technology

5-      Train staff to the use of the technology

6-      Have a central support unit encouraging reporting and feedback

Nonetheless, it is important to have a critical retrospective. Technology is not an end in itself but it is merely a tool to achieve a stated objective. It is control bodies and how they are institutionally empowered that will influence the effectiveness of a blockchain application to SSR. It is important that they are able to consistently and concretely verify data entries which might require a significant organisational restructuring. The authenticity of the data should also be ensured and this could initially be done by conducting a public expenditure review. Otherwise, governmental initiatives can turn into failed projects due to the data’s misrepresentation as was the case in Honduras and its platform developed by Epigraph.

Incorporating new technologies in the field of SSR could prove to be a fruitful opportunity. Blockchain technology, while being cost-effective and accurate, could allow greater transparency and accountability in the reform process and daily activities of security actors. In the foreseeable future, the blockchain could become an indispensable tool for any institution aiming to reinforce and reform the security sector. Today, what matters the most is to engage in a debate, study the realm of possibilities and how the technology could be implemented. Any actor involved in SSR should seriously consider the prospect of strengthening the impact and reach of future projects through innovative technologies.

Discussion

Etienne Sompairac
4 Oct 2018 11:29:07

Hello Eren,

First of all, I apologise for getting back to you only now and I would like to thank you for these interesting questions.Implementing blockchain technology to SSR could foster donor cooperation by sharing a common register and allowing the free flow of information. Donors would be able to better map needs for funding and identify which areas they should focus on. Greater coordination between donors through the blockchain would translate to a funding optimisation and enabling projects to be complementary. Overall, it could have a great impact in terms of efficiency, donor transparency and project coordination.

Regarding global uses of the blockchain, there are some projects in place although there are not directly connected to SSR. Yet they demonstrate that a potential application to the sector is conceivable. For instance, Ever-ledger developed solutions to track products and build trust in those products. They created global registers for diamonds, minerals, art, wines which are preventing counterfeits. When it comes to diamonds and minerals, it can also prevent conflict on resources from spreading. More directly linked to SSR, there are initiatives on establishing voting registers on the blockchain and allowing citizens to vote electronically. It could translate to greater institutional trust and more efficient government services.

The blockchain technology's possible applications are so diverse and have the potential to be extremely disruptive for both governments and industries. As Greg Medcraft, director at the OECD Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs, puts it, blockchain technology could be a technological advance comparable to the launch of the Internet.

Here are some more resources on the topic:

Transparency International

- World Economic Forum

- The Economist 

OECD

comment
Eren Özalay-Sanli
25 Sep 2018 14:04:38

Hi Etienne, thanks for this blog post, it got many of us thinking on how it could benefit SSR. Do you think the implementation of the blockchain technology could also contribute to increased donor cooperation in SSR? A registry of all SSR projects, funding. Did you come across any global uses of blockchain in addition to the country specific uses you mentioned like Serpro? Looking forward to your comments

comment