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Burden of Proof – Evidence for Blockchain’s Killer Use Case

Too often we simply have no flawless means of proving the veracity of a document or photo or other piece of evidence.

By James Nunns

The concept of ‘fake news’ has become embedded in our culture in the past few years, raising doubts over the truth of reporting and photojournalism.

Ed Fowler, Vice President. Head of Digital Engineering Services EMEA, Virtusa

In the age of Photoshop, it’s unfortunately easier than ever before to edit an image, changing its meaning dramatically. Now, even photographic evidence isn’t enough because so many of us are cautious of being duped by edited images. At heart, this is a question of proof and it’s a problem that goes far beyond just photos, to all intellectual property or evidential disputes. Too often we simply have no flawless means of proving the veracity of a document or photo or other piece of evidence.

In response, the legal world has evolved a complex interplay of processes to allow a judge or jury to weigh against a greatly distilled set of evidence to arrive at a “balance of probabilities”. Yet even if we leave aside the potential for miscarriages of justice and assume every decision made is correct – it is a slow, expensive process and, with over two million civil lawsuits per year in the UK alone, is an onerous cost to society and the economy. It also means even those agreements made in good faith are hindered by complex storage and review processes, designed to prove ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ the provenance of any communication, contract or transaction. This is extraordinarily expensive, with the average Fortune 500 Company spending hundreds of thousands of hours on legal review, records management and compliance.

Enter blockchain

This is about to change. Early this year, Kodak entered the crypto currency field. While many wrote this off as a desperate “me too!” from the former tech titan, the creative world noted the very real application to allow photographers to retain control of their work. Kodak’s cryptocurrency isn’t a general purpose coin or method of exchange – it’s a rights management tool of extraordinary power. It both controls the usage of anything secured by it and proves beyond any reasonable doubt who made the image, as well as where or when it was made.

This use case has not been widely explored, yet represents a seismic shift in how we think about the creation, control and management of content and important documentation. Underpinning Kodak’s new system is blockchain, the digital ledger can publically and chronologically record all transactions made. For Kodak users, each photograph – including image, time stamp, location tag, and device serial number – is encoded within a KODAKCoin and registered on the relevant blockchain.

Burden of proof

There are three key aspects of blockchain that help to prove provenance:

  • Decentralised – Blockchain is a distributed ledger, meaning all transaction data is shared across a network with no central register, administration or library. This means there is no single point of failure, and no obvious place for someone to instigate a fraudulent scheme. Network participants can see the history and transfer of assets, so fraudulent transactions are clearly identifiable. In order to tamper with the transaction records on a blockchain, someone would have to control the majority of the system – which becomes increasingly difficult the larger the network becomes.
  • Immutable – Blockchain is fundamentally immutable, because transactions recorded within it cannot be deleted or changed. Before a “block” of transactions can be appended to the blockchain, participants of the network must agree the transaction is valid through a process called ‘consensus’. The block is then given a timestamp, secured through cryptography, and linked to the previous block in the chain. You can create a new transaction to change the state or owner of the asset; it is simply added to the end of the chain, with the original record still there and accessible.
  • Controllable – Access to the blockchain can be controlled. Some transactions on the blockchain might be confidential, others might require rights to be confirmed before access is granted. Blockchains don’t need to have permissions built in but specialised ones like KODAKCoin have implemented them; access is managed through tightly controlled permissioning networks, helping to keep out bad guys and malicious actors.
The future of record keeping

The ability to store an unimpeachable record of something – be it an email, a contract, a song, a patent, an academic qualification, a health record, a vote, or a photo – and to have that storage also hold the context of its creation is clearly beneficial. Blockchain has the capability to store content in a distributed, controlled, instantly accessible, and truly transparent manner, allowing for profound changes in our business and personal lives.

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At minimum, it could eliminate the need for record storage and searches. But the real change is the veracity blockchain provides – by demonstrating provenance as an intrinsic part of the ‘thing’, and removing the concept of ‘proof’ being separate from ‘thing’. Many naysayers have suggested blockchain is a solution without a problem but from last will and testaments and antiques, to exam results and health records, the use cases for blockchain as a means of proving origin and heritage are obvious.

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