Blockchain may not be a panacea to all the world’s problems but there are many areas where it shows potential. Perhaps one of the most important is human rights. According to a 2014 report by Freedom House, only 40 percent of the world live in “free” countries. These are the nations that supposedly respect basic human rights. But a lot has changed since 2014, and not for the better.
A Snapshot of Human Rights Around the World
We often take basic human rights, such as freedom of speech or movement, for granted. Many of us forget that in some countries, simply speaking your mind can land you in jail–or even get you killed. While much of the world remains under the thumb of corrupt and oppressive governments, blockchain technology could provide at least the start of a solution.
The universal declaration of human rights from the United Nations covers a score of fundamental rights that all people deserve. Yet far too many citizens around the world do not receive them. Among the list of 30 articles are the rights to equality, freedom from slavery, discrimination or torture, and freedom of opinion and information.
An Amnesty report published this year revealed that many supposedly “free” countries are failing to comply with basic human rights. The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is one of the worst in the country’s history. The ongoing state of war in Yemen shatters all basic human rights to food and shelter. Turkey’s continued clampdown on journalists and political activists and Russia’s curtailing of freedom of speech are all in direct conflict with the human rights agreement.
We often associate human rights violations with developing countries and oppressive regimes. But the US, EU, and Australia all earned a place among the worst human rights violators on Amnesty’s list.
The EU and Australia were called out for their “callous” treatment of refugees, and Trump’s controversial travel ban borderline violates the human right to freedom of movement while discriminating on religious grounds.
Blockchain and Human Rights
With blockchain technology, we could track human rights issues more easily. This could bring transparency and accountability to both developing and developed countries. Very often, though, speaking about blockchain involves hypothetical use cases for some faraway date in the future. Yet there are many practical use cases of blockchain and human rights right now. Let’s look at a few examples.
The Right to Adequate Living Standard
From Zimbabwe to Venezuela, Yemen to Syria, people all around the world are unable to access their right to an adequate living standard. This means having food to eat, water to drink, and not being forced to live in a conflict zone or in fear of persecution.
In countries where hyperinflation is wiping out people’s life savings, blockchain and human rights are starting to team up. Cryptocurrency is beginning to make a dent in the deepening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
With a national currency devaluing by 95 percent from one day to the next, more and more Venezuelans are turning to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Dash as a solution. In fact, there are now over 900 merchants that accept payment in Dash across the country. The founder of Dash Venezuela told Coin Central:
“Venezuelans have been using cryptocurrency for years now to protect their capital from inflation. But now with Dash, it has opened a new window as a means of payment. It is an easy way to receive something that is stronger than the Bolivar and is within the law.”
Cryptocurrency further allows for micro trade and microlending. Since you can assign a value to the most minute quantity, the size of the trade that is economically viable becomes smaller. Blockchain and human rights make a more compelling case as people around the world can finally access the banking system, start their own business, and buy and sell smaller amounts.
The Right to Participate in Government and Free Elections
Another of the UN’s articles is the right to participate in government and free elections. Yet this is willfully denied to many people. Electoral fraud is common around the world. Even in countries like the United States, self-proclaimed as ‘the land of the free’, significant aspersions were cast over the 2016 presidential elections.
The Kenyan elections of 2017 thrust bloodshed, controversy, and chaos front and center. There was a widespread sentiment that the election was rigged, and many Kenyans were unable to take part due to voter intimidation.
So loud was the clamor of voices crying out against the election that it led to a second one. But that was boycotted by the main opponent and the incumbent won by a surreal landslide with 98 percent of the vote.
But rigged elections and voter fraud aren’t by any means limited to Africa. They’re widespread around the world and even common in private companies and public corporations. Blockchain and human rights projects in this area are showing positive results.
People can vote from the privacy of their own homes, free from intimidation. And all votes are tamper-proof on the immutable ledger, akin to anonymous voting in a ballot box.
There are still some issues to be ironed out when it comes to blockchain voting. Verifying voter identity and making sure the same people don’t vote twice, for example. But countries like Estonia are already proving that it is possible. In fact, all Estonians have their own ID cards they can use to vote on the blockchain securely and quickly.
The Right to Freedom of Opinion and Information
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in December of 2017, a record-high number of journalists were imprisoned around the world. The largest concentrations being in China, Turkey, and Egypt. Freedom of opinion and information is a luxury to many in these parts of the world. If a government doesn’t like a certain website, they can shut it down or monitor it. Wikipedia, for example, is censored or banned in many countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, Turkey, and even France.
The very fact that blockchain provides us with a decentralized technology that is global and uncensored means that no one centralized entity or government can shut it down.
Privacy-focused messaging app Mainframe, and mesh networking startups Open Garden and RightMesh are working to provide censorship-resistant platforms to ensure continued, unbroken connectivity. Blockchain and human rights show endless possibilities when it comes to freedom of information.
More and more blockchain and human rights use cases will develop over time. Of the 30 articles on the UN’s human rights list, blockchain technology has the potential to help with many.
With its correct use in identity management, we may be able to eradicate illicit slavery and human trafficking. And the ownership of land deeds recorded on a transparent ledger could put an end to the illegal seizure of land.
There are certainly many human rights problems to tackle. And it will be interesting to see how many cases blockchain technology is instrumental in.
This article by Christina Comben was previously published on Coincentral.com
About the Author:
Christina is a B2B writer and MBA, specializing in fintech, cybersecurity, blockchain, and other geeky areas. When she’s not at her computer, you’ll find her surfing, traveling, or relaxing with a glass of wine.
You’ve heard a lot about decentralization lately, but what exactly is decentralized internet? And what do people want when they seek it?
The internet comprises a network of networks, and if one piece fails, the internet as a whole still continues to function. You may have experienced times when you could not log into your internet account, for example. Perhaps a server crashed. Or maybe a cable disconnected. But when you logged in again you saw the internet continued to function without you. And so the world turns. The internet exists as a decentralized structure, to begin with.
Some aspects of the internet operate under a centralized authority, however. If you want to publish a new website, for example, you have to purchase a domain name from a provider because a central authority controls domain names.
But do people clamor for the peer-to-peer administration of domain names? Do people even think about domain name administration? Let’s take a closer look.
The internet defines an infrastructure, similar to plumbing or an electric grid. A plumbing system maintains a reservoir of potable water and a network of pipes and controls. If a new house desires running water, a protocol exists to bring that house water. Thus it is with the internet.
Are users demanding new plumbing, though? When people turn their computers on, the internet connects, business transacts, everything functions normally, and that appears to be sufficient for most of the population.
The World Wide Web
When people talk about a decentralized internet, sometimes it sounds more like they’re referring to the worldwide web. Tim Berners-Lee created the web in 1989, and it operates as a layer on top of the internet. It functions primarily as a user interface and provides browsers and links so people can navigate to websites.
You may be thinking that a decentralized internet could bring a better user interface then. But anyone experiencing the user interface of typical cryptocurrency wallets and blockchain sites might well be skeptical.
The web implemented a number of design choices reasonable people might well argue against. But centralization hardly ranks as an issue. Users freely choose their own browser. They decide if they want a browser from a large centralized corporation like Microsoft or Google or from a smaller product like Tor.
The Tor Project
People who ask for a decentralized internet look for privacy and control of their own data.
Computer scientists founded the Tor Project in December of 2006 with the mission of enabling anonymous communication. Obviously, anonymous communication enforces privacy. Tor, an acronym for “the onion router,” protects against network surveillance and traffic analysis.
The onion router provides anonymity with an algorithm of layers along the route of communication. Each layer only knows about the layer before it and the layer after it. The origin and final destination remain unknown to the intervening layers. In cryptocurrency, some privacy coins such as Monero implement a similar algorithm.
Tor publishes many products, including the Tor browser. The Tor browser builds on the same foundation Firefox uses, and Tor provides it as free and open-source software. But nothing ever really comes for free.
Users of corporate browsers pay by allowing those corporations to harvest user data. Users of the Tor browser pay primarily with slower response times and a generally more cumbersome user experience. Besides, some websites require user login accounts, so you provide your identity to them anyway.
Targeted advertising arises as one of the more annoying aspects of providing your personal information on the internet. Every purchase you make defines an exploitable aspect of your personality, and advertisers hound you ever after.
OpenBazaar provides an online peer-to-peer marketplace with no middlemen and no fees for using the platform. You buy and sell on OpenBazaar by downloading their app. This makes you a node on the network, and unlike traditional e-commerce sites, no central authority rules.
You can make payments with over fifty different cryptocurrencies. And your transactions are secure and anonymous.
To avoid scams and ensure customer satisfaction, OpenBazaar utilizes a feature of Bitcoin known as multi-signature escrow. The buyer and seller agree to a mutually trusted third party before transacting business. The payment goes to an escrow account. If the transaction satisfies both buyer and seller, the funds are released. In the case of a dispute, the trusted third party settles the matter.
Floating Above the Cloud
The internet reigns as a platform for conducting business, and consequently businesses move to decentralization through cloud computing. The cloud services organizations by providing virtual, configurable computing resources. This means companies don’t need to own their own servers and mainframes (known in the industry as “big iron”), and they do not need to purchase resources from a physical data center.
Cloud providers allow users to create and configure virtual computers in software. Users thereby create servers as powerful or modest as their needs dictate.
But the cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure own the massive amount of equipment required for this task. And although the cloud frees businesses of the need to purchase and maintain their own big iron and servers, cloud services are expensive.
Can Decentralized Blockchain Computing Replace the Cloud?
The simplest service provided by cloud computing has to be disk space for file storage. Put a file on a system on the cloud, then retrieve it later.
In a blockchain file storage scenario, a peer-to-peer network exists. Nodes with excess disk capacity lease disk space to customers. Customers then upload, store, and download files as needed. Users pay with cryptocurrency on a blockchain. Customer files are encrypted, preventing the host or anyone else from reading private data. The files are also broken into multiple parts and distributed across multiple nodes. This distribution also enforces privacy since a host only has a fragment of the user’s information.
Note that in this process, no centralized authority controls or sells the disk space. Peers sell available disk space to other peers.
Multiple companies now provide platforms for storage using decentralized blockchains. The Sia Storage Platform launched in 2015, and Siacoin powers commerce on its network. Similarly, Storj also provides decentralized storage and uses Storj coin. Finally, the Filecoin project developed by Protocol Labs represents another popular choice.
Decentralized Internet – Concluding Thoughts
To some extent, decentralization resides in the eye of the beholder.
The blockchain network for Bitcoin is decentralized in terms of the consensus algorithm. But given the cost of hardware resources and electricity, wealth is required to mine it. And simple common sense tells us the majority of Bitcoin wealth is centralized in a relatively few affluent early adopters.
When people speak of a decentralized internet, the gist of the matter seems to be the lack of privacy on the web, the lack of control over our personal data, and the desire for affordable resources.
No one product defines the decentralized internet, but blockchain technology provides at least some capabilities to achieve these goals in a variety of functional areas. Time will tell if the products on offer meet user expectations or not.
This article by Wilton Thornburg was previously published on Coincentral.com
About the Author:
Wilton Thornburg is a software engineer, currently based in the greater Boston area.