Commonwealth Secretariat Unveils Secure Blockchain Messaging App

Stan Higgins
May 2, 2016 at 05:01 UTC
Updated May 2, 2016 at 14:11 UTC
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The Commonwealth Secretariat, the executive arm of the 53-member Commonwealth of Nations, has launched a blockchain-powered secure communication tool geared for governments and law enforcement.

Developed in partnership with UK-based startup Digital Identity Security Company (DISC), the project is designed to offer a secure means of communication for government and law enforcement agencies within the Commonwealth.

The move comes more than a year after the Secretariat first waded into investigating cryptocurrencies by way of commissioning a report on the topic. That report, released in February, called on member-nations to declare their legal stances on the digital currency, while arguing for “innovative” approaches to technology oversight.

The organization has seen activity on the digital currency front, including a meeting last October between roughly 30 Commonwealth central bank representatives, who discussed the technology in the context of global remittances.

It’s in this context that the Secretariat has moved on the secure communications app, which uses blockchain as a means to both connect disparate entities as well as provide a means to clarify identity in a digital environment. The app was developed following a public procurement call last year.

In interview, Steven Malby, head of the Law Development section within the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Rule of Law Division, explained that the app helps the burden of sharing electronic evidence between different jurisdictions within the Commonwealth, as well as the need for stronger digital identity tools for governments.

He told CoinDesk:

“You have two problems there – the need to connect diverse access over all of the 53 Commonwealth countries, and the problem of identity as they’re always changing the roles – you might have an individual role change quite frequently.”

“The blockchain is, to us, an ideal way to address those challenges,” he added.

The app’s development comes as governments worldwide, particularly in Europe and the US, seek more access to encrypted communication methods in a bid to deter would-be terrorists.

Yet those moves have elicited strong criticism from both privacy advocates and technologists, who say proposed measures, including legislation, would actually put more people at risk.

Variety of use cases

Encrypted messaging tools on the market today include the popular Pretty Good Privacy program, or PGP, as well as a range of commercial-style apps aimed at privacy-minded users.

DISC chairman John Edge, in an interview with CoinDesk, pointed to platforms like Symphony – a finance-oriented communication platform that raised $100m last October – as a communication tool similar in scope and aim to the new Commonwealth app.

In interview, he sought to position the need for governments to have secure means of transmitting information alongside individual users who also pursue such tools.

“The role of secure communications in the world is a rather hot topic. We started this narrative a year or so ago, but I think there’s just as much any individual wants their right to privacy in a digital world, so do corporates and governments,” he told CoinDesk.

Beyond the law enforcement-oriented use case, Malby said that he believes these solutions can be applied to other areas, particularly global development, healthcare and education.

“International organizations have a lot of problems. They have to organize between a lot of other countries, whether it’s in areas like health, education, or any areas where there is cooperation required. The same technology could be used for networks in any of those fields,” he explained.

Image via Shutterstock

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