Replacing cash with digital tokens of some kind would be relatively simple. It would mainly raise questions about the degree of anonymity of such replacements. Far more potentially revolutionary and destabilising possibilities would arise if the public at large were able to switch from deposits at commercial banks to absolutely safe accounts at the central bank. This radical idea has obvious attractions since it would remove the privileged access of one class of businesses, banks, to the monetary services of the state’s bank. But it would also transform (and surely destabilise) today’s monetary system, in which the state seeks to guarantee and regulate a money supply largely created by private banks and backed by private debts. Yet the revolutionary fact is that it would now be easy for everybody to hold an account at the central bank. Technology is eliminating the historic difficulties over such access.As everywhere else, innovation is transforming monetary possibilities. But not all changes are for the better. Some seem clearly for the worse. The right way forward is to reject libertarian fantasy, but not change itself: our monetary system is far too defective for that. We should adapt. But, history reminds us, we must do so carefully.
Organised by Blockchain and Society Policy Research Lab, Institute for Information Law, UvA
Chair Balazs Bodo, Blockchain and Society Policy Research Lab, Institute for Information Law, UvA (NL)
Moderator: Mireille Hildebrandt, VUB-LSTS (BE)
Speakers: Michèle Finck, Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition (DE); David Ci- liberti, DG JUST (EU); Alexandra Giannopoulou, Blockchain and Society Policy Research Lab, Institute for Information Law, UvA (NL); George Danezis, UCL (UK); Konstantinos Stylianou, University of Leeds (UK)
Individual user control of data has become a central issue in the European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), creating a more demanding data protection framework for involved actors, all while coming in conflict with fundamental characteristics of blockchains. Thus, the difficulty lies in designing a system without compromising core values of both privacy regulation on the one hand and blockchain technology on the other. Given the right incentives there is no doubt GDPR compliant distributed ledgers can, and will be designed. The real question is what happens if there is persistent market/social/political interest in those blockchain implementations which do not care for, or are unable to achieve GDPR compliance.
Considering the interdisciplinary nature of the main question, the proposed panel consists of invited experts selected to cover various privacy-related fields including law and computer science.
• What are the main points of friction between blockchains and the GDPR?
• What are the technological privacy enhancing mechanisms that could apply?
• What are the appropriate and necessary conciliations for the creation of privacy-preserving blockchains in accordance with data protection regulation?
• Is there a market for non-compliance that blockchain technologies are best suited to serve?
What blockchain does is shift some of the trust in people and institutions to trust in technology. You need to trust the cryptography, the protocols, the software, the computers and the network. And you need to trust them absolutely, because they’re often single points of failure.When that trust turns out to be misplaced, there is no recourse. If your bitcoin exchange gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If your bitcoin wallet gets hacked, you lose all of your money. If you forget your login credentials, you lose all of your money. If there’s a bug in the code of your smart contract, you lose all of your money. If someone successfully hacks the blockchain security, you lose all of your money. In many ways, trusting technology is harder than trusting people. Would you rather trust a human legal system or the details of some computer code you don’t have the expertise to audit?Blockchain enthusiasts point to more traditional forms of trust—bank processing fees, for example—as expensive. But blockchain trust is also costly; the cost is just hidden. For bitcoin, that’s the cost of the additional bitcoin mined, the transaction fees, and the enormous environmental waste.Blockchain doesn’t eliminate the need to trust human institutions. There will always be a big gap that can’t be addressed by technology alone. People still need to be in charge, and there is always a need for governance outside the system. This is obvious in the ongoing debate about changing the bitcoin block size, or in fixing the DAO attack against Etherium. There’s always a need to override the rules, and there’s always a need for the ability to make permanent rules changes. As long as hard forks are a possibility—that’s when the people in charge of a blockchain step outside the system to change it—people will need to be in charge.
It’s hard enough to get enterprises that compete with each other to work together as a team, but it’s especially tricky when one of those rivals owns the team.Shipping giant Maersk and tech provider IBM are wrestling with this problem with TradeLens, their distributed ledger technology (DLT) platform for supply chains.Some 10 months ago, the project was spun off from Maersk (the largest container shipping company on the planet) into a joint venture with IBM. But in that time the network has enticed only one other carrier onto the platform: Pacific International Lines (PIL), one of eight shipping lines in Asia and 17th in the world based on cargo volumes.As those involved admit, that’s not enough.
This chapter addresses the myth of decentralized governance of public blockchains, arguing that certain people who create, operate, or reshape them function much like fiduciaries of those who rely on these powerful data structures. Explicating the crucial functions that leading software developers perform, the chapter compares the role to Tamar Frankel’s conception of a fiduciary, and finds much in common, as users of these technologies place extreme trust in the leading developers to be both competent and loyal (ie, to be free of conflicts of interest). The chapter then frames the cost-benefit analysis necessary to evaluate whether, on balance, it is a good idea to treat these parties as fiduciaries, and outlines key questions needed to flesh out the fiduciary categorization. For example, which software developers are influential enough to resemble fiduciaries? Are all users of a blockchain ‘entrustors’ of the fiduciaries who operate the blockchain, or only a subset of those who rely on the blockchain? Finally, the chapter concludes with reflections on the broader implications of treating software developers as fiduciaries, given the existing accountability paradigm that largely shields software developers from liability for the code they create.
Keywords: Blockchain, DLT, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Distributed Ledger Technology, Cryptocurrency, Digital Currency, Blockchain Technology, Governance, Fiduciary, Law
Cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or ethereum are gaining ground not only as alternative modes of payment, but also as platforms for financial innovation, particularly through token sales (ICOs). All of these ventures are based on decentralized, permissionless blockchain technology whose distinguishing characteristics are their openness to, and the formal equality of, participants. However, recent cryptocurrency crises have shown that these architectures lack robust governance frameworks and are therefore prone to patterns of re-centralization: they are informally dominated by coalitions of powerful players within the cryptocurrency ecosystem who may violate basic rules of the blockchain community without accountability or sanction.
Against this background, this paper makes two novel contributions. First, it suggests that cryptocurrency and token-based ecosystems can be fruitfully analyzed as complex systems that have been studied for decades in complexity theory and that have recently gained prominence in financial regulation, too. It applies these insights to three key case studies: the Bitcoin Hard Fork of 2013; the Ethereum hard fork of 2016, following the DAO hack; and the ongoing Bitcoin scaling debate. Second, the paper argues that complexity-induced uncertainty can be reduced, and elements of stability and order strengthened, by adapting a corporate governance framework to blockchain-based organizations: cryptocurrencies, and decentralized applications built on top of them via token sales. Most importantly, the resulting “comply or explain” approach combines transparency and accountability with the necessary flexibility that allows cryptocurrency developers to continue to experiment for the sake of innovation. Eventually, however, the coordination of these activities may necessitate the establishment of an “ICANN for blockchains”.
Blockchain, like the internet, or democracy, or money, is many overlapping things. It is a decentralized record of cryptocurrency transactions. It is a peer-to-peer network of computers. It is an immutable, add-on-only database. What gets confusing is the way in which these overlapping functions override one definition or explanation of blockchain, only to replace it with an altogether different one. The conceptual overlaps are like glass lenses dropped on top of one another, scratching each other’s surface and confusing each other’s focal dimensions.This guide takes apart the stack of these conceptual lenses and addresses them one by one through the reconstruction of the basic elements of blockchain technology. The first section of this report gives a short history of blockchain, then describes its main functionality, distinguishing between private and public blockchains. Next, the guide breaks down the components and inner workings of a block and the blockchain.The following section focuses on blockchain’s journalistic applications, specifically by differentiating between targeted solutions that use blockchain to store important metadata journalists and media companies use on a daily basis, and hybrid solutions that include targeted solutions but introduce cryptocurrency, therein changing the journalistic business model altogether. Finally, the report speculates on the proliferation of what are known as Proof-of-Stake blockchain models, the spread of “smart contracts,” and the potential of enterprise-level and government-deployed blockchains, all in relation to what these mean to newsrooms and the work of reporters.Key findingsFor media organizations, the use cases of blockchain can be grouped into three key areas: Auditable (and officially verifiable) database solutions for editorial and advertising Cryptocurrency-based business models Access to public data secured in blockchain-based file systems
The recent financial crisis and, especially, anti-austerity policies, reflects and, at the same time, contribute to a crisis of representative democracy. In this article, I discuss which different conceptions of trust (and relations to democracy) have been debated in the social sciences, and in public debates in recent time. The financial crisis has in fact stimulated a hot debate on “whose trust” is relevant for “whose democracy”. After locating the role of trust in democratic theory, I continue with some illustrations of a declining political trust in Europe, coming from my own research on social movements, but also of the emergence, in theory and practices, of other conceptions of democracy and democratic spaces, where critical trust develops. Indignados’ movements in Spain and Greece as well as the Occupying Wall Street protest in the US are just the most visible reaction of a widespread dissatisfaction with the declining quality of democratic regimes. They testify for the declining legitimacy of traditional conceptions of democracy, as well as for the declining trust in representative institutions. At the same time, however, these movements conceptualize and practice different democratic models that emphasize participation over delegation and deliberation over majority voting. In doing this, they present a potential for reconstructing social and political trust from below.
By consensus, smart contracts are a revolution in private ordering: they offer guaranteed enforcement, independent of the whims of territorial governments; efficient formation and interpretation; immunity from external interference; and complete deference to the parties’ wishes. Each of these claims is a myth. While smart contracts present themselves as natural and neutral, they are in fact deeply politicized. The Legal Realists tore down the foundations of smart contracts almost a century ago. Advocates for them have not solved the problems of the past—they have forgotten them.This Article offers a new critique of the optimism about smart contracts and desirability of securing mutual agreements by code rather than law. More specifically, this Article takes aim at the assertion that smart contracts can, and should, provide an alternative to traditional contract law. It contends that advocates for smart contracts rely reflexively on deeply contested assumptions from Lochner-era legal thought, including a political commitment to “freedom of contract,” insistence on a division between “public” and “private” spheres, and a minimalist view of the state’s role in managing private law systems of contract and property. More specifically, these assumptions cause smart contract partisans to fundamentally underestimate the role of the state in maintaining a functioning private law regime. This failure to recognize the inevitable extent of state intervention in private law means that smart contracts will create novel distributions of wealth and power that are normatively suspect.Furthermore, this Article draws upon two foundational moments in Internet law—early hopes for a realm beyond territorial governance, and attempts to override copyright law through technology—to demonstrate the errors that advocates and scholars alike commit based on the evanescent technology promise of this new method. Finally, this Article demonstrates that, far from realizing a utilitarian ideal of efficiency, smart contracts are constructed without democratic oversight and governance, which are essential for a legitimate system of private law.Keywords: contracts, legal theory, private law, private law theory, Lochner, smart contracts, law and technology, blockchain, Legal Realism, private order