The potential of blockchain technology has long been touted. However, the lack of a compelling use case has consistently served its critics, who remain skeptical of the actual benefits compared to other solutions.
Covid-19 could prove to be the seismic event needed to change that. IBM is likely the biggest vendor looking to use blockchain to solve some of the pandemic’s most pressing problems. The Digital Health Pass, which is part of IBM Watson Works, is designed to provide companies with a smart way to get people back to work, schools, stadiums or airplanes. The solution is based on IBM Blockchain technology and helps companies to review the health data for employees, customers and visitors who enter their site based on the criteria set by the organization. Since privacy is a critical part of the solution, the digital wallet allows users to keep control of their personal health information and share it in a secure, verifiable, and trustworthy manner using blockchain.
“When Covid-19 first started we identified several needs. One of the needs that we addressed and turned into a product was in response to the need to track people’s medical condition. The need for people to demonstrate that they were vaccinated or received a negative result for a Covid-19 test that was linked to something that we have worked on for many years that has created a digital identity, “said Gabi Zodik, Director of Blockchain and IoT Platforms at IBM Research’s Haifa Research Lab, said CTech. “Right now, our identity is made up of a lot of information that is disseminated through many computer systems. In Israel, because of the HMO system, your medical information is pretty well organized, but all over the world people are treated in many different clinics. Even their medical identity is located so not in a single place. Furthermore, a person’s identity is not just their medical information, but also their financial situation or educational history, and all of this is spread across many networks. “
Gabi Zodik, Director of Blockchain and IoT Platforms at IBM Research. Photo: IBM Research
In addition to the Digital Health Pass, IBM offers the Vaccine Accountability Network as part of vaccine availability, designed to build trust and accountability at every point in the vaccine supply chain.
“If you need to prove anything about your identity, you usually have to do it manually, for example by providing a copy of a university certificate or, in the case of Covid-19, a document showing that you tested negative”, said Zodik. “For example, when you apply for a loan, the bank will ask for payslips as evidence that you will be able to return the loan. All of these things are very easy to forge. Any child can forge a PDF that says.” someone tested negative and people were actually caught falsifying these documents. There is also the issue of privacy. When you give your payroll to the bank, you are revealing a lot more information than is required. We wanted all of these issues with our blockchain based system to solve. “”
Zodik collapsed why blockchain is the ideal technology for such a solution. “The question naturally arises as to why this system has to use a blockchain and not just be a secure central system. If all that was needed was a system controlled by the Ministry of Health and only applied to Israel, then there is a central system indeed a possibility. The thing is that in most countries including Israel it is not practical because there are a lot of stakeholders involved, you have the labs that may be private or attached to an HMO or hospital and you have those who have to check the data, and that could be an airline or an entertainment or sports venue. And most importantly, you have the Ministry of Health, “Zodik said. “There are so many organizations involved, and the data is decentralized and not owned by any organization. Nor does full trust between those organizations necessarily exist when it comes to data sharing.
“With the system we have created, each tested person receives a digitally encrypted certificate that contains their personal information and results. A person can wear this certificate on their phone and present it to anyone who wants to check their medical situation before, for example Boarding a flight or before entering a concert, “added Zodik, who has been with IBM since 1994.” The nice thing about this system is that the airline doesn’t have to make special requests and can use the lab’s public key to access check that the certificate is actually authentic and that the personal details match. At the moment, the agent at the airport cannot really tell whether your document is authentic or forged, and even if it is genuine, if this laboratory is actually used by the Ministry of Health to carry out Testing is authorized. ”
IBM announced last month that it has partnered with multinational cloud company Salesforce to integrate the Digital Health Pass with the Salesforce Work.com platform.
Zodik believes that IBM’s solution will only become ideal once a global standard is agreed. “Even if you have an authentic certificate signed by your HMO, the immigration officer who is reviewing it in Europe cannot currently determine whether the organization is genuinely authorized to distribute such certificates,” he said. “Should the system be digital and transparent, any country can join the network and access the results. In an ideal world, each country has its own network, but the certificate is standard so that you arrive in Germany, for example, and you can access it and it contains the same fields that they are used to and they can understand the results. “
For many, blockchain is still just a technical buzzword. But Zodik believes it won’t be long before he gets the respect he deserves if he is adopted with or without Covid-19 regardless of the hype.
“In a few years we won’t be talking about blockchain as an extraordinary or new technology. It will simply be part of our capabilities and allow us to build decentralized applications with the confidence that they can create between different organizations in a common ledger. It will be part of the many technologies used and there will be no need to talk about it so much, ”Zodik concluded.