The Human Rights Risks and Opportunities in Blockchain

Blockchain technology has been proposed as a potential answer to a variety of human rights challenges, from ease of access to voting and identity-based service delivery to land rights protections and supply chain traceability. As this report reveals, however, blockchain alone is almost never sufficient to address the complex set of factors that lead to human rights risks. While the technology provides new opportunities for groups working to address human rights challenges, groups working to deploy blockchain-based solutions must ensure that these projects do not exacerbate underlying risk factors or distract from initiatives that would more directly address fundamental obstacles to progress.

This report considers the human rights opportunities, risks, and challenges associated with the adoption of blockchain solutions in four prominent use cases—supply chain transparency, voting, digital identity, and land rights management. The report summarizes the advantages and risks of blockchain technologies and details the human rights challenges in each area that cannot be solved by blockchain alone. The analysis closes with recommendations for companies to help ensure that the blockchain products and services they develop and deploy will help to strengthen human rights around the world.

This report was made possible through a grant from the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

William Crumpler

Consultant, Strategic Technologies Program