All About Blockchain

Blockchain for the Public Good | Camille Crittenden

May 12, 2021 The UBRI Podcast from Ripple Season 2 Episode 6
All About Blockchain
Blockchain for the Public Good | Camille Crittenden
Show Notes Transcript

How do we amplify the positive effects of blockchain innovation? Influencing policy makers on technological capabilities and wider implications on society is a good place to start.

Camille Crittenden, Executive Director of UC Berkeley's Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), envisions many possible use cases where blockchain will make a difference in the next 5-10 years.  She had the opportunity to Chair The California Blockchain Working Group that created a roadmap to recommend potential public applications for government legislation.

This conversation leads you through considerations for appropriate applications and defining blockchain characteristics that make it fit for certain areas in Vital and Health Records, Supply Chain, Property, Utilities and Finance, Commercial Business  and Education

Lauren Weymouth (00:00):
Hello, All About Blockchain listeners. To date, we have spent time on our episodes interviewing scholars that have been building applications on blockchain in a particular sector and  we've reviewed the pros and cons of what that's going to look like in the future. And today we're going to talk to a leading expert on many different applications and how they were recommended to California state for potential use in the public sector. I've been really looking forward to this conversation with Dr. Camille Crittenden. She's the executive director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, which is housed at UC Berkeley. Camille is the co-founder of the CITRIS Policy Lab. It supports interdisciplinary research, education and thought leadership on the role of regulation and promoting innovation and amplifying its positive effects on society. I've gotten to know Camille through Ripple's UBRI program and further through her Women in Tech Initiative. Welcome Camille.

Camille Crittenden (
Thanks Lauren. It's a pleasure to be here.

Lauren Weymouth (00:57):
Okay, so you consider technological capabilities and implications for society, the role that policy plays in technology and issues like personal data privacy, digital access equality, artificial intelligence bias, the influence of social media on democracy, today I'd love it if we could focus on blockchain, what private and public sector policy makers you have consulted with and what the implications on society you envision over the next five to 10 years as a result of this tech. So what does CITRIS stand for?

Camille Crittenden (01:25):
CITRIS the acronym stands for the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society. It's actually a multi-campus research institute. We're based at UC Berkeley, but have partnerships at UC Davis, Merced and Santa Cruz.

Lauren Weymouth (01:40):
I'm admitting in prepping for our conversation, I Googled you and it came up that your background, your education is in music and performance practice. I'm so interested in how that led to a career in developing programs and human rights, supporting digital tools and promoting civic participation.

Camille Crittenden (01:57): 
Yeah. Thank you for asking. It has been a long and winding road to get to where I am today.  I grew up as a musician and went to school, both undergraduate and graduate school in music. I have a degree in musicology, um, with specialties in 19th century popular music and earlier historical keyboard music and keyboard instruments. So I was going down the path of becoming a faculty member in music and decided that I really wanted to do something that had a broader horizon for me that would use more parts of my brain.

I really am appreciative of all the time that I was able to spend in archives, in teaching, I think I gained a lot of great skills that way. But I wanted to feel like I was having a more immediate impact on some of the really tough challenges that the world is facing. So I figured I would go find additional skills and fundraising and development because this is something that any profession in most of the areas of nonprofits or government kind of organizations would need. So I went to San Francisco Opera using my music background and transitioned into doing institutional fundraising and government relations. So from there, I went to the University of California, that was my first position within UC at UC Press and got to know about scholarly communications and university publishing, which was also fascinating and then I came to UC Berkeley. I was at international and area studies for about a year and then went to become the executive director of the Human Rights Center, which is based on the Berkeley campus. When I was there, I helped them to start the technology and human rights program that is still quite successful today. I'm really proud of what they've accomplished uh, since I left in 2012 and came to CITRIS. The reason I came to CITRIS was because there was a new initiative on data and democracy that I helped to start and then transitioned to having a broader role at CITRIS as well working with their different initiatives in AI and robotics and health, Women in Tech, as you mentioned, and other areas that are going to have an impact on society.

Lauren Weymouth (03:49):
Wow. Okay. So clearly I can hear that if you can raise money, you can make an impact. It sounds like with data and democracy, it gave you something to be really passionate about and so how did blockchain play into all this? When did you start to look at blockchain as a technology that you wanted to focus on?

Camille Crittenden (04:04):
I became really interested in blockchain a few years ago. We co-sponsored and co-produced a symposium at CITRIS with the French Computer Science Institute InRhea in June of 2017. that was the first time that I really professionally looked into it and tried to present it to the public in a way that would make sense, bringing in the different perspectives from the computer scientists as well as the domain specialists.

So we held this symposium on blockchain technology for cybersecurity and social impact. It seems like a long time ago now, but many of the themes and the areas that we addressed in that conference are still relevant today. So thinking about supply chain for pharmaceuticals, agriculture, fintech, and personal data.

Lauren Weymouth (04:47):
And what are the attributes that you see that made blockchain a good tool for these public use case examples?

Camille Crittenden (04:53):
I think blockchain has a lot of opportunities to contribute to the public sector for some of the same reasons that it's appealing to the private sector. The technology behind it has an assurance of security and of transparency and transactions that the public sector needs in many cases, just as much as a private sector does. I'm very interested in the culture of blockchain as well, not just the technical capabilities of it. And I think this  aspect of peer-to-peer sharing of digital assets has been attractive to technologists and to activists in a variety of areas over the past few years. So looking in the public sector both domestically and internationally blockchain could reduce institutional overhead and be a hedge against corruption in some ways by distributing funds directly from a government agency or international aid organization, say to the beneficiaries of the funding.

Lauren Weymouth (05:45):
And we've actually been hearing about that in all about blockchain, interviewing different scholars, building across various sectors from farming to construction. You've been leading the blockchain working group. I'd love to hear how that was established and about some of the partnerships you've created on that forum.

Camille Crittenden (
the California Blockchain Working Group was established by law in 2018 by the California assembly member, Ian Calderon and Senator Robert Hertzberg through their legislation. And it required that a working group would be established within the government operations agency. It was supposed to be appointed by July of 2019 and to submit a report one year later. the task that the working group was charged with was threefold. So we were supposed to define the term blockchain for the purposes of government applications. We were supposed to evaluate its uses, risks, benefits, legal implications, and best practices for companies within the state of California, and we were to recommend amendments to existing statutes that might need to be amended, or that would be effected by expanding blockchain adoption.

Lauren Weymouth (06:50):
When did California call you to chair the blockchain working group and who else makes up this work group?

Camille Crittenden (
It was very interesting. I got a call from the leaders at GovOps, so the Government Operations Agency in the summer of 2019 with the invitation to be considered for the role. I had a few interviews with various people there, including the GovOps secretary of the time, um, before being officially appointed. So as you have probably encountered, blockchain can generate very strong opinions either for or against the use of blockchain and especially in the public sector.

They were looking for someone who could navigate these various perspectives to try to find a balanced view of blockchain's potential applications for the state. So the founding legislation actually was very specific about the kinds of people that were to make up this 20 person working group. It was supposed to include representatives from the public and private sectors, along with the IT professionals from the California government agencies that could be affected by implementing the technology as well as the two lawmakers, Hertzberg and Calderon who sponsored the legislation.

We were really fortunate to have a number of really knowledgeable people to submit an application to participate and ask that they be considered. We were ultimately able to impanel a really terrific group of 20 people from across a range of disciplines, including experts in cybersecurity and computer science and law and policy and education and the IT leaders from many of the state agencies as well as California's CIO.

Lauren Weymouth (08:24):
So now you have a 20 person group of experts. What was your process? How did, how did you go about looking at blockchain for recommendations to the government?

Camille Crittenden (
We were impaneled, in the summer of 2019, and were able to hold our first kickoff meeting actually in-person in September of that year in Sacramento. the full group met five or six times over the course of that year and also we had a subcommittee on finance that met a few additional times. I'm really proud to say that we were still able to meet the deadline, despite the disruptions  of COVID and the pandemic.

Lauren Weymouth (08:58):
That's an accomplishment.

Camille Crittenden (08:59):
Yeah, I know.

Lauren Weymouth (09:00):

Camille Crittenden (09:01):
I was really happy that we were able to drive forward.

Lauren Weymouth (09
I remember hearing about your participation in the  Blockchain Working Group I wondered, is this progressive for California or other states? Do they have blockchain working groups and has your group had any interaction with other state blockchain groups?

Camille Crittenden (09
Yeah, that's a good question. Some other states were a little bit out ahead of us. Wyoming actually has, had some public, public committees and working groups on blockchain, New York and Illinois were other states that we looked for their practices around blockchain, but not a lot. So I think that the people in the government operations agency have probably fielded calls from professionals, their colleagues in other states.  I hope that we'll be able to follow up both from a state to state kind of perspective and then also from a federal perspective around, uh, blockchain standards and applications in the public sector.

Lauren Weymouth (09
This makes me remember that actually one of our UBRI professors at the University of Texas, at Austin and another one at UNC Chapel Hill were both asked to be on the North Carolina and the Texas blockchain.

Camille Crittenden (
Oh good.

Lauren Weymouth (10:05):
Yeah, blockchain associations. And I wonder if they're tasked with, I have to ask and find out, but I wonder if they're also tasked with putting together a discovery report and recommendations for what applications the government should pursue.

Camille Crittenden (
That would be interesting. And I remember from your conference too, that you had a state representative, I think from Illinois who had been involved, uh, in doing some of that work at the federal level. So that would be great to hear more about as well.

Lauren Weymouth (
So tell us what applications were you focusing on? What, you know, what great use can the state of California make of blockchain?

Camille Crittenden (10:33):
It was very ambitious, the areas that we were trying to address. So broadly, the topics included vital records, things like birth and death and marriage certificates. Of course, health records are a big question, looking at supply chain for agriculture and pharmaceuticals. We looked at applications in properties so for instance, real estate, vehicles and parts, property insurance, firearms, utilities and natural resources like energy and water, finance, of course, payments and commercial businesses, banking and remittances, civic participation, and education and workforce development. So the report goes into greater depth in some of these areas than in others. And in some case we surveyed the landscape and just noted areas for future exploration. Others were more kind of shovel ready for pilot projects or partnerships.

Lauren Weymouth (
And this is great because we've actually, on this podcast all about blockchain, heard from scholars on some of these use cases. We've heard about putting medical health records on blockchain. We've heard about property ledgers for real estate, as well as energy consumption.

Camille Crittenden (11:39):
Oh, great.

Lauren Weymouth (11:39):
So how did you evaluate when DLT was appropriate to use for business or government? Like what are the risks and benefits or, or even legal implications that you looked at or best practices?

Camille Crittenden (11:49):
In looking across all of these potential application areas, one principle or recommendation that seemed prudent is to start with things and not people. So that is to explore applications in say agriculture like tracking supply chain to really identify and confirm the provenance for niche products. It could also be used to trace goods or produce say from the farm to the consumer in the case of outbreaks, um, that could cause food poisoning.

Other applications include authenticating luxury goods, so diamonds, for instance, from the mine to the store or consumer and then thinking about documents like real estate titles or archival materials.  thinking about things like that before trying to apply them to people or more sensitive data like health records. laws and tax policies around cryptocurrency, as you're aware, are currently under discussion and have been updated for 2020. And I think that context will certainly continue to evolve around digital currency.

Lauren Weymouth (
So your recommendations that you made to California legislator were along the lines of state archives, DMV, and food and agriculture. What do you think, which of these pilot projects are they going to move forward with? Have they shared with you their review of your recommendations?

Camille Crittenden (13:08):
We continue to be in discussion with those agencies about potential applications. Of course, many of them were involved in trying to respond to the pandemic and to unemployment and all the other things that the state was facing at the time so some of the more ambitious projects were put on a back burner for the period immediately following our, report. But I think they now are getting back to the point where they're able to consider moving forward and thinking about how those applications might work.
So for instance, I'm speaking with the folks from the DMV next week to see where they are, but I know that they were really interested in potentially applying blockchain, say to a driver's license where it would make it easier for someone to move from one state to another if you had an overarching system that would help to confirm identity from one state to the next. also thinking about using blockchain for documenting vehicles and vehicle parts all the way from the manufacturer to a consumer, to a dismantler that those areas are of interest just to confirm ownership and supply chain.

Lauren Weymouth (
You can really hear in your example that it does lower overhead time and cost because everything becomes streamlined. And then also for the consumer or the client or the customer, it's a mo, a more seamless customer service experience.

Camille Crittenden (14:28):
I think that's really the goal. And the more we can standardize those systems, then the more seamless those experiences can be. The benefit of putting, say, driver's license information on a blockchain, of course, is that the holder of the license can have more authority and control over what kind of information is shared. So if you are just going to buy alcohol at a liquor store, you don't need for that person to know your address all they need to know is that you're of legal age. So if I don't-

Lauren Weymouth (15:01):
No, Camille, they just need to know that I'm 21.

Camille Crittenden (15:03):

Lauren Weymouth (15:04):
And at the liquor store, right?

Camille Crittenden (15:06):
Exactly, that's all they need to know. So if you had a document like the driver's license, which is commonly used for now, but that would only share your dryer, your date of birth and not any other of the identifying information, then that would be preferable.

Lauren Weymouth (15:17):
Okay. So along these applications, what further research needs to be done?  Were there any applications that you encouraged the state not to go forward with?

Camille Crittenden (15:25):
We considered all kinds of applications. There's one area that computer scientists we talked to felt was really not ready for blockchain applications and that was in voting technology. just the security questions around that are too important for the health of our democracy and too uncertain that it would be adequately protected against hacking or cyber security intrusions.

Lauren Weymouth (15:50):
That's interesting because we actually do have some UBRI projects going on looking at putting voting on, on ledger.  is there anything else you can say about the security of that? 'Cause I thought one of the reasons that blockchain was becoming more and more adopted was because it is more highly secure than other centralized systems.

Camille Crittenden (16
Yeah, it, it is. And I can certainly see the appeal of it and I think eventually we'll probably get there, but the people who are advocating against it point to the fact that there's no good way for the voter to ensure that what they have voted is actually what gets counted, that they really feel like even paper ballots, or a printout of what one has voted is preferable  just to have that sort of receipt of what one voted, that could be counted again later. So that sort of backup that's not electronic and especially that's not connected to the internet, they felt like that was just still too, too risky.

Lauren Weymouth (16
Okay. I see. So what further research needs to be done in order to make these recommendations go forward?

Camille Crittenden (16
Many of these application areas would really benefit from further research. one area that I'm really intrigued by is the, shift to renewable energy sources. I think this would be an exciting area to experiment with these kinds of peer-to-peer transactions on the blockchain. So there are examples that could come from micro grids that are being established at the neighborhood level, there are also examples from larger systems of carbon trading and carbon emissions that could be exchanged on the blockchain. thinking about energy as well, I realized that this has been a criticism of blockchain to the, energy demands and computation, especially for Bitcoin mining.  we're going to be able to solve that problem, with new technologies and looking at the, the potential for energy conservation over the long term.

Lauren Weymouth (17
And now we have the Crypto Climate Accord, which blockchains including the XRP ledger are signing all over the world to try to channel the evolution of this industry to be more, energy efficient and green.

Camille Crittenden (17
I think that's really important. And I imagine that many of the people who are interested in developing the blockchain technology also hold those values and are interested in supporting that goal as well.

Lauren Weymouth (18
We heard the further research that needs to be done, we definitely hear how computer scientists are working on creating a more secure and private blockchain. going back to the state, how do we encourage innovation in the state?

Camille Crittenden (18
To encourage innovation overall it's really great when organizations, uh, such as Ripple through University of Blockchain Research Initiative or other agencies or organizations can help to fund research at universities, that is where a lot of the innovation is going to happen both on the computer science side as well as thinking about the application areas.

We need also make sure that then those innovations are being translated into practice and forming those public private partnerships will be important. Another aspect or asset I think that large institutions or organizations have is to use their facilities as test beds. so universities or hospital systems can kind of also, offer their offices or even their actual physical facilities as sandboxes to test new applications and discover what works or what doesn't work and what could use further research.

Lauren Weymouth (19:09):
And maybe you could talk to us a little bit about the policy considerations.

Camille Crittenden (19
Well, one thing that I wanted to mention that came out in the working group as well is the need even as we're pushing forward with a lot of these innovations and research is really to attend to the questions around equity and to make sure that the benefits of blockchain innovation are equitably distributed.

So for example, I did another project related to potential applications of blockchain in working with homeless populations and being able to document especially their health care needs. So this is an area where it would be beneficial if there were that interoperability of data between often public hospitals that homeless folks use from one county to the other, often it's managed at the county level. But an obstacle to that is how the digital identity is being managed.

So often we would probably have our IDs on our phones or some other kind of mobile device, and that could be difficult in that kind of precarious circumstance for homeless people to hang on to. So that's one issue and then trying to replicate that requires at least at this moment, a lot of overhead going to different agencies and offices to re-establish your identity, even with paper documents. So I think even as we have enthusiasm and want to chase after the opportunities that blockchain offers, we need to be aware of the real world context, especially with some of these vulnerable populations that we're proposing might adopt it.

Lauren Weymouth (20
That makes sense. all right. You've done a lot of public and private review of the potential use of blockchain and in various sectors, what are your favorite use cases?

Camille Crittenden (
I think there are a lot of really exciting applications coming up one would be in education and digital credentialing. There's a group, the digital credential consortium of a number of higher ed organizations around the world, uh, including UC Berkeley, trying to understand how we can create a digital wallet for credentials. So this would help again to reduce the need for an intermediary like a registrar's office or something like that where the learner has his or her own wallet that would identify and confirm the qualifications that they have completed at an institution.

And then they would be able to share that again with say another institution if they were applying to another school or to graduate school or to future employers. so again, it just gives more power to the individual without having to have the transaction costs and the delays potentially of having to go through an intermediary. So that's one area.

And I think also looking at the humanitarian applications, I'm excited to learn more about some of the larger relief organizations that are using blockchain applications for disaster relief and being able to distribute funds more directly, especially in areas where the central banking authority might not be entirely reliable say. If you were able to distribute funds or aid directly to the beneficiaries, that could potentially reduce grift and corruption in areas where that might be a concern.

Lauren Weymouth (22:17):
Well, this conversation even came up widely in the United States in the last year with COVID-19 payouts.

 So now that your working group has delivered your recommendations and you're keeping up on the progress of what the government's looking at and choosing to do and probably still advising, what are your next steps? What's your focus now with blockchain?

Camille Crittenden (22:34):
I'm just really interested to follow how it can be further developed and, and applied. I have some conversations going on with people at the National Science Foundation who are interested in using it potentially for grant awards and in the same way, possibly with what you described in the construction industry to be able to have more direct sub awards without going through some of the intermediary steps that really require a lot of overhead.  I'm curious to see how that might evolve. 

I think seeing how it can be applied in the renewable energy sector like we discussed will be really exciting to see. One area that I'm really curious about and I would love to talk with others if they know about is in firearms regulation because it seems like it would be an area where there's a need for distributed databases to be updated simultaneously in a way that is going to be really timely and actionable.

So for instance, in California, if you buy a firearm, you have to go through a background check and then that gets entered into a database. You purchase a firearm, and that's also noted. But then you might have an intervening incident say a case of domestic violence or something where that firearm is supposed to be seized, and you're not allowed to own it any longer, but the process of updating one database to the other is, takes a long time and it's not reliable. So I would be very curious given blockchain's architecture, if this would be an application area that could help to flag, cases where firearms need to be taken away from their current owner because of these other circumstances.

Lauren Weymouth (24:11):
And track down at what current address that party's actually at.

Camille Crittenden (24
There are many, you know, human, (laughs), places where it requires that kind of intervention that can't be solved by blockchain. But, um, I think at least on the data management side, it could be really useful.

Lauren Weymouth (24:27):
So what do you see the blockchain industry evolving? How do you see it continuing to mature over the next five years?

Camille Crittenden (24:33):
Looking into the future I think one problem that we're going to need to solve is around digital identity. If we're looking at how the blockchain intersects with people and especially sensitive records like healthcare records and such, um, that there are cases where it can be very useful.

Going back to the example of the homeless population using say biometrics, uh, eye scans, or, fingerprints to connect an individual to an electronic record, also has security concerns. And if that kind of,  technology is applied in areas say where there are repressive regimes or authoritarianism,  then that is dangerous for those people potentially, to have their electronic life and records connected to their biometric data. Also just to spur adoption, the homeless population and others for good reasons are suspicious around having their biometric data use for that kind of purpose because it's often been connected with law enforcement, where they have not had a good experience. So I think that question of digital identity and how that intersects with blockchain is going to be one that we'll still need to solve, and that will require interdisciplinary minds to solve. You need not just a computer scientist, but also behavioral scientists and sociologists and public policymakers and all kinds of people, to bring to the table on that.

Lauren Weymouth (25:53):
It is exciting to think though, that in a few years, all of these ideas can come together and actually be implemented across different sectors. And, and we do, we have multidisciplinary departments that are looking at this holistically and trying to figure out from, a business side, policy side, engineering side, even humanities how this is all going to unfold and affect our culture and improve it.

Camille Crittenden (26
Exactly. So I think that diversity of discipline is really important. I think attending also to diversity of gender and racial and ethnic demographics is important to make sure that we have all perspectives raised around these really thorny questions.  tech in general is fairly male and white, and I think blockchain is no different than that and the overall demographics. but I would really encourage anyone who's thinking about this to also consider these diversity aspects as well.

Lauren Weymouth (26
Well, thank you so much for giving us a window into many different applications and what one of our state governments is actually looking at, um, to produce in the public sector. where do you want to send people to find out more information?

Camille Crittenden (26
if they're interested specifically in the California Blockchain Working Group's report, it's available on the California GovOps website which is you'll be able to find it there. To find out more about CITRIS, and just a reminder that it C-I-T-R-I-S, is at and the CITRIS Policy Lab is at So you'll find a number of reports there, including the one that I mentioned around healthcare and applications for homeless populations.

Lauren Weymouth (27
Camille, you've been collaborating with leading experts in this space, which will be pivotal in setting up the future of blockchain use in California. Thank you for sharing your research with us.

Camille Crittenden (27
Oh, it was my pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Lauren Weymouth (27
It was a pleasure hosting you on all about blockchain and listeners, thank you for giving us your time today. If you have any questions about this episode or feedback for another episode, please reach out to, until next time.