Blockchain is being used to facilitate a new kind of digital citizenship in some countries.
Governments are expanding the definition of digital citizenship with surveillance programs such as social credit scores and government-issued IDs that track everything from voting records to state pensions.
Estonia, a small northern European country of 1.3 million, was the first nation to move most of its government services fully online 16 years ago. From taxes, to voting, to healthcare, Estonia has created myriad digital tools to serve its citizens. In 2017, in an effort to attract more entrepreneurs and tech talent, Estonia began piloting a beta digital citizenship program (along with financial benefits such as favorable tax breaks) without requiring a physical residence in the country. While Estonia’s digital citizenship is an example of positive government innovation, other countries have introduced more controversial initiatives.
Some 15 million Venezuelans allegedly have a “Carnet de la Patria” or a Fatherland Card, which was developed by Chinese telecom giant ZTE. Under the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, the country rolled out the cards four years ago, requiring Venezuelans to use this card to access government services, pensions, and food stamps. The card also tracks voting records and party registration.
Where does blockchain fit into all of this? Estonia incorporates distributed ledger technology in many of its digital citizenship services. In the U.S., one startup called Voatz is applying blockchain technology to voting. In 2018, Voatz conducted a pilot program with the government of West Virginia in which 144 Americans living in 31 countries overseas cast ballots in the November midterm elections.
In democratic countries with protections for individual freedoms and rights, digital citizenship can usher in a new age of innovation and improved public services.
Many authoritarian and totalitarian regimes are also eager to adopt these technologies as well to maintain control and concentrate power.
Voatz, Utah, West Virginia, the governments of China, Estonia, and Venezuela, voting commissions worldwide.
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