Seminole County tax collector uses blockchain to develop digital ID

Joel Greenberg formed separate company to do it

Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg is using blockchain to develop a digital identification system.

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Blockchain is the same encryption technology behind the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Now Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg is using blockchain to develop a digital identification system.

"We issue IDs. We're an agent of DHSMV (Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles). We issue all state IDs," Greenberg said. "So somebody can take control of all their information and it can be encrypted. And you choose to share what you want with whoever you're dealing with."

Greenberg said a digital ID, which can be presented on a phone and even create a quick response code to be scanned, allows you to present only the information you want to be shared and protect information you want to keep private. 

An example is showing your date of birth to a bartender while not revealing your address.

Greenberg said a digital ID could even allow you to transmit via Bluetooth your driver's license to a police officer while sitting in your car.

Several other states have already adopted a digital ID system.

The tax collector's 22-year-old blockchain and legislative affairs director, hired by Greenberg, is developing the technology.

Before he was hired, Sam Armes studied economics and intelligence at the University of South Florida and said he has made presentations to the CIA, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the State Department.

"So I worked for USSOC (U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Baseon Bitcoin counter-threat finance research, worked very quickly for the State Department doing similar stuff, and worked in the Florida Legislature," Armes said.

Armes also created the Florida Blockchain Business Association.

Armes said blockchain is the most secure technology available because it decentralizes data, storing encrypted information on many, many computers instead of one central server than can be hacked.

"The way it works, is once the information is entered, it's in there," Armes said. "So it almost sounds antiquated. It's like the technological version of a typewriter. Once it's entered, the only option to update it is to start over. And that's the process of adding another block, right. It's the most secure, what we think is the most secure form of database to build identity on top of. By far, because the only other alternative is a centralized database. And how many times in the news have you seen Facebook, or bank, or government agency, get hacked?"

In order to begin developing the blockchain-based digital ID technology, Greenberg created a separate limited liability company, registered by the Florida Department of State Division of Corporations to the Seminole County Tax Collector's Office.

Greenberg named the company Government Blockchain Systems LLC. Greenberg said he formed the LLC as "a business strategy."

"It allows for a degree of separation of the offices, the office can't be sued," Greenberg said.

Greenberg also explained he plans to sell the digital ID technology to other businesses and county and state offices to generate revenue for the Tax Collector's Office.

"The Tax Collector's Office is developing intellectual property, and one of the ways we plan to monetize this is to partner with private companies located in Seminole County, so for liability reasons when you're dealing with contracts things can get hectic sometimes, this is a litigious society," Greenberg said. "It's treated as a division of the office, wholly owned by the taxpayers. It's something we can and hold our IP (intellectual property) and license that out to other counties."

Greenberg listed himself and Armes as the managers of the LLC when he filed articles of incorporation but has since changed that, he said. 

"The paperwork's been corrected, it should have been Seminole County Tax Collector is the sole member of it, before it just listed the managers," Greenberg said. "We corrected that. It was probably an error. I should have put Joel tax collector on it instead of just my name."

Greenberg said he has filed to run again as tax collector in 2020 but said the office will always own the company even when he's no longer tax collector. 

"It may be unconventional, if it needs to be changed down the road, to a 501c3 corp., we can do that," Greenberg said. "We're in the infancy stages of this project. This is not about you and Sam going into business together? No, no, no, no. I'm happy here in the Tax Collector's Office, Sam is a rising star. Sam was put on there because I wanted to put another person on there for checks and balances."

The Seminole County Sheriff's Office, Seminole County Property Appraiser, and Seminole County Clerk of Courts all said they're interested in the digital ID technology and will be watching Greenberg's system to see how it develops.

A spokesperson for the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office said state statutes determine technology and the elections office will "follow strict technology statutory guidelines as set by the Florida Department of State."

"You've got to remember the Florida Legislature has tasked the state of Florida with developing a digital driver's license, so it's not like this is something new," Greenberg said. "We're just simply looking at doing a digital county ID form here."

Greenberg said he was the first property appraiser in the U.S. to accept Bitcoin as a form of payment.

About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for News 6 and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting.