Is it time for a public safety blockchain?

By Ged Griffin
Wednesday, 13 June, 2018

Is it time for a public safety blockchain?

Communications technology is rapidly changing and having an enormous impact on our lives. And even though it is difficult to accurately predict the future due to the pace of change, we can see some themes emerging. Certainly the Internet of things (IoT) and the smart cities movement are giving us some insight into the potential of new sensors and sensor networks — for example, new smart buildings that collect and share observations or data in real time. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications are a key element in driving these innovations by supporting billions of interactions between autonomous devices to forge new efficiencies.

The biggest shift underway within the global public safety communications community is the emergence of public safety mobile broadband (PSMB) communications networks. As part of this shift, officials are starting to consider new sources of information that may become available as the next generation of communication ecosystem emerges. Technology and data from the IoT and smart cities movement is an obvious area of interest, but officials are now using terms like the Internet of Public Safety Things (IoPST) or the Internet of Life Saving Things (IoLST) to describe a discrete subset of sensors and sensor networks that provide data relevant to various aspects of public safety operations and to protect life. While access to new data sources is very appealing, the integration of the potential vast range of sensors and sensor networks also introduces new challenges and potential vulnerabilities.

When dealing with mission-critical systems such as the public safety communications ecosystem, each component needs to be protected to ensure that it is available where and when it is required. Similarly, data provenance and accuracy are key concerns when making critical decisions during life-threatening situations. Trust, security and privacy (TSP) protocols are a key element of any reliable communications network, the approaches to which may vary depending on the scenario to ensure the protection of integrity, availability, confidentiality, non-repudiation and user privacy. For example, encryption and firewalls are common TSP elements within public safety communications networks.

In recent years blockchain has emerged as a significant technology in the financial services industry. Blockchain enables trust in the trustless environment of the internet. Blockchain-based smart contracts also allow the automated execution of processes when conditions are met. The key question is whether or not blockchain technology meets the business needs for trust within the new PSMB-enabled ecosystem. The establishment of automated processes through smart contracts, and auditable transaction records with the owners of both public and private sensors, will support the integration of IoPST and IoLST into this communications ecosystem. This will ensure that authorities can trust the information and sensor data they receive. Hopefully, it will also help to detect any nefarious attempt to introduce a false data feed into the communications ecosystem. At the University of Melbourne, representatives of the Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety and the Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence are starting to examine the potential benefits of creating a public safety blockchain.

Ged Griffin is an Inspector in the State Emergencies and Security Command of Victoria Police. He is also manager of the Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety at the University of Melbourne.

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