Wedding certificates sealed with blockchain
In 2018, Washoe County, Nevada, was looking for a new way to distribute marriage certificates to county residents. During a conference, former Washoe County Recorder Larry Burtness met the CEO of Titan Seal, a startup that protects PDFs by creating a certificate hash in the memo field of a blockchain transaction. They worked together on a pilot to put marriage certificates on a blockchain-based system.
GCN spoke with Hunter Halcomb, Washoe County Recorder departmental systems engineer, to learn more about how the project was completed and some lessons learned.
Halcomb's responses have been modified for length and clarity.
GCN: What is the advantage of a digital certificate protected by blockchain?
Halcomb: The recorder's office stores marriage certificates, which is proof that you married in Washoe County. People need these certificates to prove they married and to show what their name was before and after their marriage. They will call, send us by fax or e-mail to request a copy and, when they do, we will tell them that we will send them the paper certificate and that we can send them a digital certificate that they will receive today.
GCN: Why did the office choose this system?
Halcomb: Titan Seal uses an Ethereum blockchain because it is built from scratch to have applications based on it – not just financial transactions. Furthermore, when we implemented it, the transaction fees were lower.
GCN: What were some of the surprises that emerged from your pilot process?
Halcomb: We learned no [every agency] is ready to receive digital documents. We need to let other agencies know that we are about to issue marriage certificates on the blockchain, how they are made and to be ready for them. Some of these agencies have not received any digital documents, so I think communication is the key here. People have to understand what the blockchain is, its potential and how these documents are safer than the paper documents we have published before.
GCN: have you faced any problems with the training staff on the system?
Halcomb: Our office employees were not used to dealing with digital documents up to this point. We have offered some documents in digital format, but not certified. There were processes to be put in place to teach people how to get these files in their e-mails and between the office computers. We needed a new workflow to work with these documents.
GCN: What was the response of Washoe County residents?
Halcomb: I was surprised by how many people accepted these documents right away. If you have something new and provably better, some people will still be skeptical. To date, we have an approval rate of 63 percent. Making sure customers said they wanted a blockchain marriage certificate was easier than we thought. Once he started offering it to everyone, almost everyone wanted one. A couple of weeks after sending someone a Titan Seal certificate, I send them a follow-up email asking them if the government agency that presented this document has accepted it.
GCN: what are the next steps?
Halcomb: Our next step is to apply this same technology to our record stores. We keep every record and marriage certificate that has ever been registered in Washoe County in 1862. We need to keep those documents forever. We need a way to make sure that these documents are not tampered with.
We record around 7,000 marriage certificates every year. The record archive is 17 billion pages of information. We do not have a complete inventory at the page level of our library, but we have about 3,300 books and about 7,500 microfilm rolls.
We will use the Titan Seal technology to seal all these archives of documents, so if there is an emergency where the documents of this office are not accessible and [people] it is necessary to go to the archive, so they know with the blockchain that those documents can not be tampered with.
Sara Friedman is a journalist / producer of GCN, covering the cloud, computer security and a wide range of other public sector IT topics.
Prior to joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, covering state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantastic sports. He also wrote for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecommunications and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where he studied journalism, politics and international communications.
Friedman can be contacted at email@example.com or follow it on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.
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