Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have the potential to change the internet and world as we know it, but not necessarily for the reason you think. To understand why, you first need a grasp on how cryptocurrencies work. The secret is the blockchain.
What is a blockchain?
A blockchain is essentially an open ledger. All the transactions are anonymous and digitally-approved by volunteers working on the chain, so there is no single authority ruling over everyone else. This creates what is called a “decentralized network,” and it is essential to all cryptocurrencies. Smart contracts, which can be programmed to release funds after certain activity and are used for apps, crowdsales, and democratic autonomous organizations, also run on blockchain.
Blockchain in action
Now that you have a basic understanding of cryptocurrency and blockchain’s decentralized network, how can this technology help human rights? There are five major ways:
Fighting against slave labor
The seafood industry, especially in Asia, is fueled by slave labor. Investigations find that many boats in the prawn industry will even kill slaves who refuse to work. Companies like Walmart and Costco buy from distributors using slave labor, continuing the cycle. Chocolate is another product rife with slave labor. It’s challenging to know for sure what products don’t rely on slavery, but blockchain can help. Provenance, a UK platform, is using blockchain to trace products from source to store. Their case study followed yellowfin and skipjack tuna in Indonesia for six months to see if claims about social sustainability could be tracked and verified.
The refugee crisis is complicated and overwhelming. In 2017, the United Nations’ World Food Programme embraced cryptocurrency and distributed cryptocurrency vouchers to over 10,000 refugees from Syria. They could redeem the vouchers for essential food stuffs. Criticism immediately followed with many saying that the project would have been just as successful without a blockchain system, but the WFP believed the speed and cost of a private chain was the best route to take. Another project called Exsulcoin brings job training and opportunities to refugees in camps using blockchain and a cryptocurrency. The startup helps people establish records of their identity, education, and job history, so it’s easy for potential employers to hire them.
Organizing and securing healthcare records
Knowing where your healthcare records are and knowing they are secure is extremely important. In the case of emergency, it’s also essential that healthcare professionals can access that information. In a lot of places, that data is not secure and in developing nations, it’s often not even digitized. There are dozens of companies working on bringing blockchain into the healthcare world, including Patientory. Their mission is to secure the wealth of health data for providers, patients, and institutions in a cohesive way. The app can be downloaded the Apple Store and give users instant access to their personal records, which are secured on the blockchain and follows HIPAA guidelines. Healthcare is a human right, and blockchain is a valuable tool for organization and security.
Preventing voter frau
“Voter fraud” is a common buzzword these days, but the real problem isn’t people trying to vote multiple times; it’s the security breaches that can occur. The possibility of a corrupt government interfering with the voting process is also concerning. Moving the system to a blockchain would keep the process transparent, decentralized, and impenetrable. Everyone could see and confirm what was going on; no single party could come in and change data. A blockchain-based voting system would also make voting easier. Horizon State, which was recently selected as a World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, created a digital ballot that allows citizens to vote from their phones or computers. While that sounds like a system that could easily go wrong, the blockchain keeps everything secure.
Protecting free speech
Good journalists have one of the toughest jobs in society: they tell the truth. In certain countries, the truth is not something the government wants people to hear. In 2017, the number of imprisoned journalists around the world hit a record high. China, Egypt, and Turkey held the most. Countries like this are able to shut down websites they don’t like, but when information is stored on a blockchain, no one can close it down. Apps like messaging-platform Mainframe strive to fight censorship. The creators consider Mainframe as basically like email, but decentralized. People are able to share information without fear of getting shut down. When it comes to finances, free-thinkers are also able to protect their money when they use cryptocurrencies. While in the past, the government might seize the account of someone they don’t like, cryptocurrencies stored in a blockchain are more secure.