Records on a Blockchain

One of the fundamental issues for records management has been ensuring the authenticity and integrity of records. Blockchain presents records managers a new way to ensure electronic systems offer integrity.

Authenticity and Integrity Opportunities

Record Scheduling

As blockchain technology is used to create federal records, it could  impact  how  GA  (Government  Agencies)  approaches scheduling.  At  this  time,  the  use  is  not  wide-spread  and appraisal   and   scheduling   would   follow   traditional   models evaluating  the  content  and  context  of  the  subject  of  the records   to   determine   the   value   of   the   records   and   the retention periods for the records.

What may change is the disposition instructions for transfer of   any   permanent   blockchain   records   or   deletion   of   any temporary   records.   For   example,   would   the   disposition instruction  require  GA  to  be  made  a  node  or  part  of  the blockchain in order to have access to the records for eventual transfer? Would the entire blockchain have to be transferred by the federal or state agency on the blockchain to GA or vis versa? Is it possible to transfer parts of blockchain?

Transferring  blockchain  records  to  the  GA  is  a  completely  theoretical  discussion,  at  this point. No blockchain records have been scheduled as permanent records, yet. Some of the questions to consider are:

Are there special resources needed to archivally store blockchain records, such as node/network administration skills?

Since the records within the blocks may consist of a variety of record types accumulated from multiple transactions, would GA be able to access the formats contained in the blocks?

How would GA manage, preserve, or provide access to blockchains containing cryptographically inaccessible parts?

If multiple agencies are on the blockchain network, each with their own node, would a single creating agency or owner need to be responsible for transferring the records or transactional data?

What if GA become a node itself? Would the legal transfer of the blockchain records happen when GA is included on the blockchain?

Decentralization Challenge

Current records management models rely on a centralized collection of electronic records captured and maintained within the structures and systems of an organization.

Blockchain shifts the responsibility and trust for maintaining electronic records from the structures and systems of the organization to a distributed network. This represents a change in the role of centralized records management systems and tools; a shift to the blockchain itself performing the validity and trust that records management systems performed. This shift from a centralized model of trust to a network-based model is  becoming  more  common  across  various  technology  sectors.  Whether  it  be technology (the Internet) or the way we communicate (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, or  Twitter),  networks  are  becoming  a  primary  organizing  principle.

This  shift  may  impact  how  records  are  organized  and  arranged  and  maintained over time, which in turn will impact how records managers collect records, apply intellectual and access controls, and execute disposition rules.

Archival Science and Disciplinary Integration

Video, audio, and photo manipulation present a unique challenge  to  the  National  Archives  and  its  mission  to collect,  maintain,  and  provide  access  to  the  authentic records of the Federal government. For example, there are video editing applications for facial manipulation of YouTube videos, as well as highly accurate voice editing software,  which  allows  users  to  more  easily  create “fake videos” without detection.

In order to solve the challenge of archival veracity, GA will   use   hashes,   each   of   the   bulk   download   items included  a  hash  in  the  metadata  so  external  entities could validate the digital material had not been altered. Blockchain technology could be part of future archival veracity solutions.

Blockchain and Success Criteria

As agencies adopt blockchain technologies, GA will need to address the principles in these guidance products by: