In September of 2016, CCRD announced that it would participate in a Pilot Program to study how blockchain technology could be implemented into current law and practice in Illinois land records, as well as how the state could benefit from this technology.
What is blockchain? Simply stated, a blockchain is a distributed database/ledger of chronological, timestamped transactions that is decentralized across its user-base, with each user holding their own full copy of the ledger, and each user also acting also a “consensus verifier.” This eliminates the need for a third-party to “clear” or vouch for the accuracy of a transaction, as the database’s crpytographically-protected structure makes changing records or inserting false records almost impossible. Blocks of digitally-signed transactions are given “digital fingerprints” that are “hashed” using a “one-way” algorithm, and that encrypted block fingerprint is included in the next block. Because the transfer of the asset is verified across the network, once it is given to another, it cannot also be sold to a third party.
The full report and additional resources are available here
The CCRD Blockchain Pilot Program produced a series of findings and results. These findings and this Report are the opinions of CCRD or the author alone, and should not be considered shared by Pilot participants.
Result: The participants designed a blockchain real estate conveyance software workflow that can be a framework for the first legal blockchain conveyance in Illinois (and possibly the US.)
Result: CCRD has successfully used components of blockchain technology (file hashing and Merkle trees) to secure government records on a site maintained by an authorized non-government reseller.
Result: CCRD used the concept of “oracles” to build the most informative property information website in Cook County, with a dedicated landing page for each parcel. These landing pages can be conceptualized as “digital property abstracts,” which help people see the benefits of consolidating important property information.
Result: CCRD’s current enterprise land records software vendor, Conduent (formerly Xerox/ACS) has agreed to incorporate some of the technology used in blockchains, particularly file hashing and data integrity certification, into the new land records system currently being installed at CCRD. Both parties will work together over the next year to explore further possible uses.
Below is a summary of CCRD’s findings and opinions. Each will be expanded further on in the Report, beginning on Page 31.
- Blockchain technology is a known method for permanently storing transactional records that in a number of respects is superior to locally-isolated client-server models, and can provide a method of recordkeeping that is resistant to alteration, even by government officials.
- The use of blockchain with a Proof of Work consensus algorithm that requires expending massive amounts of electricity to confirm each transaction is not ideal for real estate recordkeeping. Distributed ledgers may be a better option.
- Blockchain can provide a mechanism to combine the act of conveyance and the act of providing notice (recordation) of the conveyance into one event.
- “Blockchain” is not an all-or-nothing approach; aspects of the component technology can be implemented individually or selectively to improve recordkeeping outcomes.
- Creating “Digital property abstracts” can consolidate property information that is currently spread across multiple government offices in one place, empowering residential and commercial property buyers, as well as lenders and other interested parties while creating a framework for a digital property token.
- Protecting property conveyances with asymmetric key cryptography (akin to locking the transfer with a secret password), would make unauthorized conveyances more difficult, protecting homeowners and lienholders.
- While digital signatures could phase out “wet” signatures from the public record and could thereby increase privacy and security, it could enable secrecy, and it remains important for Illinois’ land registry to remain open and continue to identify all who participate.
- In many cases, a parcel could be easily conveyed using the Bitcoin (or another) blockchain, but if that process also included tokenizing title to the parcel and making the digital asset a bearer-asset; this further outcome may not be desired or, if desired, may create new challenges that must be
- Separate from conveyancing, if the use of blockchain were to be extended to the maintenance of a records system, it would be most optimal if the record-keeping ledger were to be distributed across all land records offices in Illinois, allowing economies of scale and the ability to create true distributed consensus.
- With the CCRD office slated for consolidation with the Cook County Clerk by 2020, it is not prudent to undertake any large conversion effort without knowing the commitment of the elected official who will ultimately run the combined office.