US Government Concerned About Falling Behind In Blockchain Developmentbr>
Blockchain consulting and production firm ConsenSys recently held a forum with the US State Department to bring together government agencies with the private sector to explore the policy implications and potential applications of blockchain technology.
Jason Brett is the Director, Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs for ConsenSys’s newly opened Washington office. He talked with Block Tribune about the recent forum and what the US agencies are considering with blockchain.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What was the attendee profile at this? Were there mostly IT people, or were senior policy people in attendance?
JASON BRETT: The attendee profile was primarily government agencies and many blockchain companies, such as ConsenSys, IBM, Deloitte, Microsoft, and notable blockchain startups that focused on identity, such as BanQu. When it comes to the issue of human rights, one of the largest obstacles, particularly with refugees, tends to be not having an identity. A blockchain-based identity, or what is often referred to as a self-sovereign digital identity (SSDI), would enable a person to have a permanent digital identity that would not change no matter what country the person is located.
With respect to your question on the make-up, there were a combination of IT attendees as well as junior business operations attendees. It would seem the IT area would drive the adoption of blockchain, but more often, it is the business development folks who are looking at a problem to solve, who are more active with the formation of blockchain use cases.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What were some of their blockchain concerns?
JASON BRETT: The main concern appeared to be that blockchain should not be viewed as a panacea; however, if you look at the statement of the Deputy Secretary of State, this was perhaps one of the more bullish government-sponsored events for blockchain over the last year. There is potential to see this transformative tech in our lifetime – I am quite confident it will play a role in State.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Did the attendees come in with a vision of what they wanted from blockchain technology? Or did they come to learn of its possibilities?
JASON BRETT: The attendees were still very new to the technology. They understood it to be a foundational technology – one that will be very transformative (similar to the Internet). However, the attendees did know that certain characteristics of blockchain technology, such as transparency and the ability to validate a person’s identity. The idea of cybersecurity, and its use in helping to prevent cybersecurity attacks throughout the blockchain, is critical.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Much of what the State Department works on is secret. Given blockchain is largely a public tech, were there concerns in that area?
JASON BRETT: Blockchain is definitely a public, open-source tech. If we remember the origins of the Internet, it came out of DARPA with the TCP-IP Protocol and packet switching in 1974 – the internet did not become “public” until the mid-90s. We believe the blockchain’s “public protocol” is still in its infancy – it is 1993 in terms of a historical perspective before the big break-out year of 1996. The majority of active blockchains are ones such as private permission models such as Hyperledger and R3’s Corda – however, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, which is now the largest blockchain consortium in the world, is working on standards for private, enterprise versions of Ethereum; however, in our minds, this is 1993 in terms of a timeframe when compared to the Internet
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What were their foreign concerns about blockchain? Any sentiment that the US is falling behind? A Sputnik moment?
JASON BRETT: Yes, there was very much a foreign concern about blockchain in that there are countries who are examining the full potential of this technology. Given that blockchain technology has the power to revolutionize how information is stored, including classified government information, it is of the utmost importance that the United States lead this innovative process and avoid such a “Sputnik moment.”
BLOCK TRIBUNE: How engaged is government in general with developing new tech, and on what timeline? We always hear horror stories about 25-year-old tech still be used to launch nuclear missiles
JASON BRETT: I think that the U.S. is waking up to this technology and my understanding is there will be an announcement on the number of agencies actually experimenting with this technology, so while I am not sure of the timeline, I am certain that the engagement is likely increasing by the day.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: What are next steps for government, and on what timeline?
JASON BRETT: As Justin Herman announced from GSA, there is the formation of a blockchain “Atlas” on Github that was announced on October 10, 2017. This to me is a watershed moment in the U.S. for a couple of reasons. Very often we hear the biggest complaints in the U.S. relates to the ability of the U.S. government to adopt blockchain because of procurement rules. With the use of “GitHub”, GSA’s Justin “Doc” Herman is demonstrating leadership by essentially creating a public-private partnership for everyone to start participating together in the creation of use cases for blockchain. Private sector individuals can post their use case ideas on the site. I am also a member of GSA’s working group on blockchain – there are a couple of exciting releases coming very soon.
BLOCK TRIBUNE: Since government tends to have turnover every 2-4 years, how big a barrier is that to accomplishing tech innovations?
JASON BRETT: That is definitely a barrier – and with blockchain, we expect this technology to take some time for full adoption, similar to the internet. However, just as the Clinton White House in 1996 provided a framework for the growth of the Internet, we believe the current administration has a similar opportunity to create a “blockchain framework for growth” that will bring jobs and infrastructure growth to the United States.