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Blockchain-based technology for secure digital signatures wins legal tech hackathon in Singapore

A team using a blockchain-based technology to provide a cost-effective, reliable and secure system for conducting and recording transactions online won a legal technology hackathon organised by the Singapore Academy of Law (SAL).

The hackathon was a held as part of a regional legal tech forum, the TechLaw.Fest 2018 held from 4-6 April 2018. The competition challenged participants to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to everyday problems faced by lawyers, in-house counsels, users of legal services and data protection officers (DPOs) in Singapore. To emphasise the importance of personal data protection, teams were also asked to incorporate Data Protection by Design in their solutions.

The challenge areas are drawn from FLIP’s “101 Problem Statements – Challenges & Opportunities for the Legal Sector” and four other data protection problem statements prepared by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC). The 101 Problem Statements were collated in consultation with lawyers, in-house counsel and users of legal services. It is intended as a guide for technologists, entrepreneurs and the legal tech industry in developing client-centric solutions in areas such as increased access to justice, better collaboration and communication between lawyers and clients, as well as enabling lawyers to increase their productivity. FLIP worked closely over three months with a team of ten undergraduate students, mainly law students from the National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University (SMU), who assisted in collating the report.

The winning team, from Singapore-based legal technology company LegalFAB Pte Ltd, addressed privacy and cyber security concerns in using digital signatures on legal documents.

Digital signatures, the equivalent of a handwritten signature or seal to authenticate the source of a message, are encrypted to prevent tampering but lawyers are still wary of using them. They cite problems of data privacy, such as the challenge of ensuring that the client’s information is not used beyond what it was intended for. They also want the encryption process to be simpler and integrated with their existing software.

With the winning solution, individuals are able to create an encrypted record of verified personal data that can be used to enter into transactions, and confirm details of the transaction using a documented digital signature.

For example, using this system, an individual can apply to open a bank account using passport details that have been verified by a law firm, instead of having to visit the bank with physical copies of their original documents. The bank, in response, electronically sends back a copy of the draft bank account details which the individual can then confirm using a digital signature. This can all be accomplished with almost no risk of forgery or hacking.

The aim is to create an efficient way for companies to obtain verifiable data from customers, while at the same time allowing individuals to digitally sign information in a way that reliably protects and proves their verifiable data when dealing with companies.

The team’s solution offers a significantly higher degree of transparency and security, which they hope will encourage more confidence in and widespread use of digital signatures.

The next step for the LegalFAB team is to develop their prototype solution into a viable market product. They will do this under SAL’s Future Law Innovation Programme (FLIP). FLIP has an acceleration programme to help promising tech-based legal enterprises start-ups scale up their business.

Paul Neo, SAL’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer, said, “It is heartening to see FLIP’s 101 Problem Statements starting to catalyse innovation in the legal industry. We hope to see more solutions and products like this in the near future. These will go a long way towards evolving our legal industry into a legal hub for the region.” 

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