People and organizations that have had to deal with missing persons may encounter a variety of issues, especially if that person has potentially crossed national boundaries.
- üLegislative differences. A missing person in one country is not necessarily categorized as such in another.
- üPolice across borders may not cooperate, and may even be antagonistic to each other. Formal channels via Interpol (a trusted third party) may be slow and prone to problems of its own.
- üGovernments may not cooperate well, and inter-governmental processes are typically slow and mired in bureaucracy.
- üLanguage barriers may be difficult.
- üCultural barriers may be difficult.
- üIdentifying and contacting people and organizations who are able to help is an uncertain proposition.
These and other reasons contribute to global problems that go well beyond simple missing persons such as trafficking of people, slavery (prostitution, slaves on fishing vessels, farms, factories) and identity theft that results in other criminal activity. At the same time many vulnerable people are left frustrated and unable to achieve meaningful progress in the tracing and recovery of loved ones.
The establishment of a technology solution that cuts across boundaries, be they inter-national, inter-organizational, or inter-cultural, is a task that can go a long way to creating effective solutions to these problems.
The primary factor that builds barriers is trust. One group does not trust another group enough to grant easy access to its systems or data. At the same time there are formatting differences. Organization A’s programs and databases are not the same as those of organization B, so even if the trust issues are resolved there remains the difficulty of data and process interchange. Such costly integration exercises are beyond the will and budget of many organizations.
Blockchain technology offers a viable and relatively low-cost solution to these problems. Initially designed as part of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, Blockchain has emerged as an elegant solution to overcome trust and interoperability problems across most industries. Significant work over the past year has resulted in tools that are highly suitable in creating a global repository for the coordination of missing people incidents between numerous parties, and verifiable data that can be utilized in the fight against the subsequent abuses.
What is Blockchain?
The blockchain is a data construct (database), hosted across multiple computers, known as nodes, connected to the internet. This blockchain database is synchronized through consensus between the various nodes, achieved through an algorithm that ensures all the nodes eventually agree on what is the true and correct version of the data. The data is written in blocks, each linked to its predecessor by a hash of the completed predecessor stored at the start of each block. This means preceding blocks cannot be changed once written, resulting in one of the blockchain’s great strength’s – immutability.
Through immutability we can ensure no fraud takes place i.e. no-one can modify a record without leaving an audit trail of the changes.
Establishing a Hierarchy of Rights
In order to interact with this global system a hierarchical key management system will be used. At the apex of the hierarchy would be the originator of the blockchain that oversees the issuance of keys further down the hierarchy. In this case it may be a UN Organization, or a panel tasked with this administrative function. Within the hierarchy would be organizations that have particular responsibilities, such as Interpol, the police departments of different nations, non-governmental organizations, social services, commercial airlines and other transportation companies, and even private companies with a special interest in the potential identification of missing individuals.
Each key issued would have particular rights and privileges related to the writing of data, and the keys would be used in the verification and certification of data.
Reporting a Missing Person
The first consideration in creating a global reporting mechanism is to make it accessible and user friendly. The person making the report may be from any socio-economic background, and significant work will have to be done by third parties to proliferate access mechanisms. However, the most successful mechanism will no doubt involve mobile phones, since this constitutes the most common tool for online interaction globally.
Such a mobile phone interface would have to account for both smart phones and older mobile phones. Therefore the solution will have to encompass HTML5 for smartphones, and SMS or USSD for older phones.
The person making the report may or may not have a government issued identity that can be logged. At the same time they may wish to reveal their identity (they may be living under a repressive regime, and may therefore be fearful that their report may attract scrutiny). Regardless of this we may have, at the least, the telephone number of the mobile phone used in lodging the report. A further refinement may be to build social media interfaces, allowing for the person to link the report to their social media ID.
The identity of the person lodging the report may therefore contain elements such as:
National ID/Passport Number
Social Media ID
Where this identity is weak it may be bolstered by a visit from police or social services (if requested by the person making the report), and this party verifying the information lodged, and attesting to its accuracy by signing the report digitally, using the official key allocated through the blockchain hierarchy of rights.
Information About The Missing Person
The information lodged about the missing person can be similarly lodged and verified. Everything that is known and may be useful to any tracing and identification process can be uploaded to the blockchain.
If a third party such as a police officer or social worker subsequently visits the reporting party to verify information, they can verify data by consulting friends, teachers, co-workers or associated people, and then sign off on the veracity of photographs, identification marks, and other data by signing the data with their designated key.
The advantage lodging this information on the blockchain is that it is instantly visible and usable by all parties utilizing the blockchain. Traditional methods would rely on distribution mechanisms that are defocused and slow. A well-known truism in missing people cases is that the first 24 hours is crucial in a successful resolution.
Access to Information
Personal information about the person can be lodged on the blockchain in encrypted or unencrypted format. This would effectively make some information visible to the public – perhaps a photograph, and the person’s name and age. Other information that could be abused, such as identity numbers, address, name of the person reporting them missing, etc. can be encrypted but verifiable. Certain key holders in the hierarchy of rights would be able to decrypt information they may need access to.
It must be mentioned at this point that all enquires, or types of enquiries, can be logged for posterity and analysis.
Finding a Missing Person
Once a missing person has been located and his or her identity established, the entry can be signed off as resolved. Again, the key of the party attesting to the resolved case is used to sign off the case. If possible the sign-off of the person who originally posted the report should also be solicited, perhaps using an invitation sent to their mobile phone number or social media ID.
A blockchain based solution will offer a global, universally accessible mechanism for the lodging, auctioning, and resolution of missing person cases. Additionally it will offer a verifiable and trustworthy source of data in that it cannot be maliciously altered or obscured.
Interoperability issues between disparate interested parties are nullified, and the United Nations Organization is the ideal organization to encourage its use by a highly diverse and global collection of stakeholders.