Blockchain and registration of the unborn child: a promising combination

July 19, 2021 - 5 minutes reading time
Article by Robert Vogelezang

Blockchain can be used to help municipalities share data relating to the registration of the unborn child, thus preventing incorrect registration. That is the outcome of a Proof of Concept (PoC) carried out by Centric. Ben van Lier (director of strategy & information at Centric) and Jan van den Bosch (business development manager at Centric) talk about the usefulness of these types of projects in general, the blockchain and, of course, the lessons learned.

What should I keep in mind when registering an unborn child?

Van den Bosch: “If you are unmarried and your partner is pregnant, it is important to acknowledge the unborn child. In this way, the moment the child is born, you have a direct family relationship with the child and you can also apply for custody. You can now acknowledge the child at any municipality, but municipalities cannot share that information with each other, because the registers of the Civil Registry are not linked. In other words, this is actually, to put it bluntly, about stand-alone information from municipalities. Suppose future parents from Amsterdam have had an acknowledgment of unborn child drawn up by the municipality of Amsterdam, and that the birth takes place in the hospital in Apeldoorn. If the parents do not have the details of that registration with them, and the official of the municipality does not ask for it, a birth certificate may be drawn up, without the father having a direct legal relationship with the child. This is not a desirable situation for both municipalities and citizens – you want to share that information and be able to use it immediately. And that is precisely what we cannot currently shape with existing solutions within our area of expertise.”

What role can blockchain play in this? How does the technology contribute to the sharing of that information?

Van Lier: “In recent decades, the government has already made several attempts to centralize the basic registration of persons (BRP), which are now located in 352 municipalities, so that the personal data of citizens can be kept up to date from one place. This has not been successful to date. To ensure that that information is shared, you have to do tests. With blockchain technology, we can conduct those trials for the first time, without needing the central government to set up a central party. With this technology, you do not need a central facility to allow all those municipalities to communicate with each other – and with third parties.”

What is meant by blockchain?

Van Lier: “Blockchain technology is the fact that wherever there are machines, these machines can communicate and interact with each other, through algorithms and software, in networks. For example, machines include computers, laptops, smartphones, but also cars, wind turbines, washing machines or MRI scanners in hospitals. That communication and interaction between these machines takes place in the form of exchanging messages between these devices, without the intervention of a third or central party.”

How important is blockchain right now?

Van den Bosch: “The Ministry of the Interior is now also investigating these kinds of new technologies. It is therefore very important that we as Centric are involved in this. We want to be a good discussion partner for national and local governments in the field of global technological developments and their application.”

Van Lier: “If you look internationally, it is striking that the application of the technology takes place under the radar. Everyone talks about Bitcoin and smart contracts, but very few parties in the Netherlands are currently looking at the application of the foundations of these types of technologies on a large scale. China, for example, is already working on it. They have built their own blockchain service network and are the leading factor of the Blockchain of Things (BoT) internationally. This is a program within the International Telecommunication Union that aims to standardize communication between devices and products for, for example, smart cities: cities where information technology and the Internet of Things are used for management and governance..”

What lesson can we learn from the PoC?

Van Lier: “Among other things, it is very important to see the technology, the theoretical research, in combination with what is demanded in practice. These elements came together with the PoC. Then by definition you get innovation: we have technology but no problem yet and we have a problem but no technology yet. You have to superimpose those two aspects or layers, as it were. You can talk about blockchain indefinitely, but it's only when you create it, when you apply it to an existing technological world, that you see what happens.”

Van den Bosch: “This project is a combination of people with knowledge of Civil Affairs and Civil Registry and people with knowledge of blockchain. Those are actually the layers that Ben refers to, that have to work together to see: can we find each other?”

If you don't know what's going on in technology, you can't talk about it

‐ Ben van Lier

How far are we now from a product?

Van Lier: “The question is: is it a product? Or will we soon provide a technological option in which parties can collaborate with other parties? That collaboration is important. I think we are technically excellent at trying out these kinds of technologies within existing groups. Because the technology is already further ahead than many people think.”

Van den Bosch: “We learn by connecting technology with practice and experimenting with it”.

Van Lier: “Research has shown that there are few people in the Netherlands who know anything about the technology under the blockchain. Worldwide there are five to seven thousand. That's a problem, because if you don't know what's going on in technology, you can't talk about it.”

Will this project continue?

Van den Bosch: “We will continue from this first phase to test it further. In addition, we will work on the questions that came up during the project.”

Van Lier: “And that's exactly what you need projects like this for. There are still questions that we need to answer, such as how do you settle something like this and what will the outside world do if we continue with this? In any case, we have taken a good first step towards a concrete application of blockchain.”

Background information

The choice for the registration of the unborn child process

As a Professor in Berlin and Lecturer at the Hogeschool Rotterdam, Van Lier has been researching blockchain technology together with students for a number of years, mainly in relation to the (Industrial) Internet of Things and Cyber-Physical Systems (computer systems in which a mechanism is controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms – ed.).

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