The 4th Annual Government Day: The Reality and Skepticism of Innovation and Blockchain

Originally published on the Legal Executive Institute

By Joseph Raczynski

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Government sector strives to ramp up its efforts to more widely integrate cutting edge technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it is running into a myriad of challenges.

Not the least among them, is separating the reality from the hype of these miracle tech solutions.

At Thomson Reuters 4th Annual Government Day, panel attempted this separation by focusing on blockchain, working to uncover the reality of this technology today for governments and cut out the hype of this innovative technology.

Government supply chain management

One area the panel focused on with blockchain is the tech’s potential to change supply chain management, offering a scenario in which a state or federal agency needs to identify the ground zero genesis of a fruit or vegetable foodborne illnesses. The newest proof of concepts utilizes a blockchain-enabled IoT supply chain management technology ecosystem that can save lives by greatly reducing the time it takes to track contaminated tomato from the salad bar back though delivery, distributers, wholesalers, to pickers and finally to the farm.

The panel also discussed how a Massachusetts-based farmer could partner with a technologist to track his tomatoes from vine to fork. The farmer uses IoT temperature gages from the pickers to the platers. This is an example of a public and private partnership where produce with clear data on temperature, handlers, and distributers can be audited through the entire supply chain, all supported on a distributed ledger.

Harnessing this collection of technologies, any listeria outbreak can reduce seven days of research to just seven minutes, ensuring that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have rapid response and control.

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Sovereign identity

Another area the panel discussed included identity management solutions. Breeches to our own private information are commonplace. In fact, recently Facebook suffered yet another attack where 200 million users’ phone numbers were found in a publicly facing open database, including the number of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (In case you are wondering, calling Mr. Zuckerberg’s phone number goes to a generic voicemail.)

Not surprisingly given the stakes, various federal agencies have been surveilling this space for some time. An emerging concept about how to prevent such breaches and other identity security mishaps in the future is taking form.

The panel also took up the “radical” idea that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could issue a new unique identifier to replace a citizen’s Social Security Number (SSN). In a major shift, this identifier would exist on a blockchain. This decentralize system would place the control of the identifying number into the hands of the individual, removing a central repository, which could be hacked.

Panelist Alan Cohn, a partner at Steptoe & Johnson, pointed out how this could more securely enable our current voting system, curtailing the chance of fraud and make voting easier for all.

Digital assets

Finally, the panel explored the shifting landscape of digital assets. Cohn said he expects a huge swing in the way we look at assets from a personal perspective and in how the government views it.

The panel concluded that with Facebook launching its own cryptocurrency, Libra, this process has been legitimized. The discussion amped up around what will happen next. I suggested to the panel that Libra could be dead in the water in the United States because of a heightened regulatory concern, but this blockchain-enabled asset cannot be placed back into the bottle. Indeed, with years of consternation ahead from regulators on Libra, companies around the globe will move forward, and the next organization to create what amounts to a world currency will be a messenger app which has 500 million users, Telegram. (Expect its launch before Halloween 2019.)

In all likelihood, governments around the world will be spooked by the immense power an app founded in 2013 will create. They will have a scalable, frictionless asset with features that could bypass anti-money laundering (AML) rules and Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations.

Panel moderator Jason Thomas, Manager of Innovation at Thomson Reuters, and panelist Gail Gottehrer, of the Law Office of Gail Gottehrer, noted that there is significant promise ahead with the intermixing of multiple technologies in combination with blockchain. Indeed, governments are beginning to adopt and adapt in this environment; and with a push from the private sector, state and federal agencies will continue to adjust.

The synthesis of technologies like IoT, AI, and blockchain will create processes which should stamp out farm- and distribution-based foodborne illnesses. New initiatives around the security of personally identifiable information through blockchain will place the control of information into an individual’s hands, removing central points of failure and reducing costly and damaging data breaches.

Lastly, one of the most significant changes ahead is the look and feel of our ownership of assets when everything becomes digital. The opportunity is immense, but so are the concerns around our government’s ability to counter AML as assets become increasingly liquid and frictionless across the globe.

Kleros.io (a Thomson Reuters Incubatee) Publishes Handbook of Decentralized Justice

Kleros.io is a blockchain startup which Thomson Reuters incubates in the Legal Technology space.  They recently published a book about dispute resolution using blockchain technology.  I had the good fortune to work with Federico Ast, Founder & CEO on a chapter for the book.

Please feel free to download a digital copy here:

Kleros’ Handbook of Decentralized Justice available for download NOW!

PDF: https://lnkd.in/ehA-5VF 

ePUB: https://lnkd.in/epCFpu2 

MOBI: https://lnkd.in/e26PxQc

Here is a section from my conversation with Federico:

***

One of the cores of our work at Kleros is researching the prospects of legal tech and the impact it will have on the legal business in the coming years. Joseph Raczynski, Thomson Reuters’ resident legal futurist is one of the select few we always love discussing.

Joe has a wide view of the legal industry and the business and technology that will affect it in years to come. Let’s dive into the conversation!

What’s a legal futurist, what’s the job description of that?

There is none. I think they’re still working on that in some dimly lit back room. It comes down to this – I’ve spent a lot of time on the core pieces of technology, either building computers, working on networks, white hat hacking systems and delving into how businesses processes work by studying sociology and believe it or not, nature, which inevitably impacts how we interact and develop.

I have an undergrad in economics and sociology, so I hope I understand the business world, but also believe I have some thoughts on how humans think, how we work as groups. The grad school education formalized and enhanced some of my thoughts with an MBA, and a Masters of Science in e-commerce.

I tried to spend my time on what people are doing in other businesses, in the financial world, in the medical world, and then pull that into what is happening in the legal industry.

Sometimes the legal profession might be a tad further behind the curve with what we see in other industries, so what I can do is peer into how others are working and parlay that into what may happen for legal.

As a practical example, I was mining Bitcoin in 2011 trying to understand how it works. Most of my friends and colleagues asked ‘what is this, what are you doing?’ They thought it was pointless, and the jury was out in my head about it, but I found it very intriguing, so I continued to explore it.

If you play around with these technologies before most know about them, at very early stages, you can get a better picture of what is going to happen in the future with different industries, the legal industry being one of them.

The next thing to take a gander at is memory on organic materials – imagine saving all of your firm information to a tree? Seems bizarre, but at some point these things will happen.

You don’t have a background as a lawyer, but in business and social science. How did you become interested in the legal industry?

I see the legal industry as one of the spaces with the greatest opportunities. You know this is growing because of all of the startups that have infiltrated the industry. There are so many startups that are looking at the legal space right now, because there are two parts to it – the business of law and the practice of law. Both of these are ripe for great efficiency across the board.

These startups are looking at different aspects of these two facets, thinking of how to make it more efficient, to make it a bit easier for the clients to better serve themselves, or to work with law firms and have law firms better service their clients.
I see AI and blockchain leading the way – the AI algorithms making things faster and more efficient and blockchain saving this information and hopefully making it so that the trusted third party is now a computer network.

The perfect example of this is what you guys are doing with Kleros. I honestly think this is one of the best examples out there in terms of how we can create better efficiency in a “trustless” environment, working with blockchain to be able to save information, secure it, but also have people leveraging this tech to create a better environment for all parties involved in a dispute.

 

Since you mention Kleros, what caught your attention about our project?

What I find the most fascinating about Kleros is the idea that you are going to leverage blockchain as a space in the ether that allows people to file a complaint, process that complaint, and eventually resolve it, using a system based on blockchain, and wisdom of the crowds.

Crowdsourcing enables the expansion of the pool of people making the decision. This makes a lot of sense, as it can greatly enable efficiency and reduce costs in a large number of dispute resolution processes.

The economic model that aligns individual incentives with honest decision making is a great innovation within the legal industry.

 

How do you see a new technology like blockchain interacting with traditional government courts and regulation? Are legacy legal systems going to adapt to blockchain or are they going to be disrupted?

That is a great question and I think the answer depends on where you are in the world.

In time, I think blockchain will absolutely disrupt the way the government interacts with information and the way they verify it. I was in Dubai some weeks ago and met with government officials working on a full-on blockchain enabled verification system that, when decisions are made, puts everything on the blockchain.

Anyone will be able to look up that decision with ease and they want to have this up and running within the next 18 months without having to go through a proprietary company. In Dubai, it is the government who is pushing law firms in this direction. The government is leading there.

In the United States, on the contrary, you find that traditionally it is the corporations that lead change. Law firms tend to follow, then eventually, a little bit further down the road, you may see the government starting to get involved in the space.

Depends on where you are and how this works, but clearly some changes are afoot in the next five years.

 

What about AI? How is it likely to impact the legal industry?

It’s a funny one. All we see in the news is the AI and how it’s going to disrupt law firms or the legal industry in general. There is so much talk about this every single day, how the robot attorney is coming…

I had the good fortune to meet the pre-eminent legal technologist, Richard Susskind last year in London. One thing he says is that, in the short term, we are probably overestimating the power of AI, but in the long run we are probably underestimating it. We’re at a stage that AI is in the news and most of the attorneys, partners, and managing partners of law firms that I meet ask – is this really happening?

It’s clearly cresting atop Gartner Hype Cycle, similar to what is happening with blockchain, there is a lot that may happen with both of them. On the AI front, you are seeing companies that come along and have very smart ideas about how they can change a section of how the practice or business of law works.

For example, let’s say there is a merger between two massive organizations, both have 50,000 employees. One of the core things they want to look at are the employees they have for both organizations to see if they mesh well. In order to do this, they need to review all 100,000 employment contracts identifying golden parachute language… For example, if anyone got a $50 million bonus if the merger took place.

Currently, many global law firms do this due diligence. They put 100-200 attorneys on it by having them read every single contract and making sure that those documents are standardized – not containing that golden parachute.

Increasingly there are algorithms and associated programs on the market that go through all the contracts, looking for all the standard language, kicking out those contracts that don’t have the common phrases or terminology. Those kick-outs are then reviewed by a human, resulting in a massive increase in efficiency and less people hours.

These startups who are creating these applications, are pushing the bar in legal. They are devising better ways to get the job done using AI – in an incremental way. Will we see a robot attorney in the next few years? No. But these types of tools leveraging some AI will ramp up quite considerably across the board.

 

What is the result of all this? In the world of AI and blockchain, in fifteen years, say, what’s the place of lawyers in all this? What does the legal system look like?

Ten years out, and these are just guess, all of the lower tier work that we traditionally see law firms doing, be it the e-discovery, some of the contract work, all of that will probably go away.

E-discovery now still has a lot of human eyes looking at a lot of these documents, after a first pass that maybe a computer completes. In time, that will probably be all computer. The documents that are out there right now, the normal contracts, that will all go away.

It’s that very top level where you need human imagination, human thought, collaboration that will be the furthest out to be disrupted. But there are a lot of attorneys that are doing just day-to-day work, canned phrases that you use to build up that document, a lot of that stuff will be impacted in the next, say, five years. In ten ten years, I’d say it’ll definitely be impacted. That’s the direction that I personally see it going in.

Law firms that don’t change the way in which they work will probably go away.
Lastly, what we are starting to see in Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand, is that the Big Four of auditing and accounting are starting to take away some of the business from law firms.

Not only can they now handle law firm work, they can handle everything else – they have full-on accounting, the business processes, all of that is going to be fulfilled by these massive organizations. That will absolutely impact law firms.  This will come to the US soon, it is inevitable.

 

What advice would you give to a law student preparing for this new world?

Don’t practice law. (Laughs) I’m kidding.

I think it’s still a fantastic profession which requires a great deal of talent and unique thought processes. The advice that I actually gave to a few people who were interning here this summer, who were looking at law school: spend as much time on understanding the basics around law.

If your passion is around helping people and the love of law, go to law school. In preparation for your studies look at some of the startups like Kleros and try to work there to see what a lawyer will be doing in the future. Understand the growing relationship between technology and the law.

Clearly law rules the roost, but technology will continue to play a role in how it is practiced, and frankly what will be done by the future attorney.

I think companies should bring in a few aspiring attorneys to help them understand where we are going as a society, as a business. The future student should work with startups, work with bigger companies that are involved with e-discovery or anything in the legal technology world to help them get an understanding of how the technology works, how the vendors work and how this stuff may impact the way they practice law. Getting a full-rounded perspective of where the world is heading is essential – especially if you are dropping 300K USD on education.

One last thing I’ll mention about this is – I don’t know who originally thought of this concept, but there is a phrase called a T-shaped attorney. It’s literally like the letter T. Across the top of the letter T, those aspiring attorneys are learning everything they can about the business and the practice of law. They are learning a bit about project management, maybe they’re learning a bit about how to code or how vendors work.

More and more we are hearing about attorneys learning to code in different languages, so they have a better understanding of how that works. Understanding how vendors work, how startups work in the legal tech space. That’s the top of the letter, and the deep part, the extension of the letter T is the practice area they’re in, litigation, automotive practice or any else which they know almost as an expert. We are really talking about a well rounded attorney.

What books or other resources can you recommend to people to read and start learning about the future of law?

Some of the best books out there about legal technology and what impact its’ going to have are by Richard Susskind, most are aware of him, but if you haven’t seen or heard this gentleman from Scotland, he is on tour frequently, he talks about amazing things which should be happening in the legal industry.

He has a plethora of works out there. I spend a lot of time on YouTube in my off hours, looking at what people are thinking, what they’re talking about in many different industries, clearly within the legal tech industry as well, so that’s a great resource. Twitter has a plethora of great discussions that are happening as well.

Shameless plug, you can always check out my blog at https://JoeTechnologist.com, there’s always one or two hopefully decent ideas there that could be something worthwhile.

A presentation of Kleros with some extra flavor given by Joe Raczynski

Forum Magazine: Blockchain’s Promise – Verifying Value One Block at a Time

Originally published in Forum Magazine 

by Joseph Raczynski

Blockchain technology is truly transformative, impacting almost every industry. Over the next decade, this technology will significantly transmute the legal landscape as well – a process that has already begun.

Blockchain was initially considered a ridiculous notion – the idea of a digitized ledger beholden to no single owner was derided as unusable. However, the conversion of blockchain from joke to genuine is stark. For example, the top 50 banks in the world have unified in the realization this technology could disrupt the financial industry.

For those newer to blockchain technology, here’s a brief history: In its simplest form, the term “blockchain” refers to a peer-to-peer network of computers running a common software protocol that includes a database replicated on each computer connected to the network, where each user interaction (other than a query) is recorded as a new entry. (Each computer is called a “node,” while the database is often referred to as a “distributed ledger.”)

Further, each blockchain has a mechanism, referred to as a “consensus algorithm,” for ensuring that each copy of the ledger is updated in a consistent manner and is otherwise identical to all other copies of the ledger across the network. Thus, once a transaction has been recorded on the ledger, that record is shared among all the ledger’s users, and generally, it can’t be deleted or overwritten.

Is this technology ushering in an era that creates an undeniable source of truth for contracts and digital identity? How else might it impact how law is practiced and how the legal industry operates?

The Smart Contract

Central to any discussion of blockchain and its legal impact is understanding “smart contracts,” a term that has been around for decades but in this landscape has a specific meaning. A smart contract is a few lines of computer code that creates an “if/then” statement, e.g., if Amazon® stock is at $2,000 on January 1, 2019, then sell it. What is special about smart contracts on the blockchain is that once an agreement has been reached by two parties, it is programmed onto the platform and becomes self-executing and immutable – without any human intervention. For example, Ethereum, the first blockchain platform to popularize the idea of the smart contract, permits people to code “if/then” statements onto the blockchain or into a database with ease, allowing for infinite applications.

Clearly, self-executing legal documents will at some point be the norm. This is one of the most significant efficiencies that we will see in the transactional space.

Forum

Early on, legal industry experts saw that blockchain’s smart contract applications alone had the capability to revolutionize how transactional attorneys practice law, dramatically changing how they interact with documents and clients.

Indeed, it may change the way lawyers view their very function. “These systems embed legal logic, require review by legal counsel and raise unique issues around the proper scope of the lawyer’s review versus the engineer’s,” says Joe Dewey, partner at Holland & Knight. “On an ongoing basis, corporate counsel will need to ensure that the systems are updated when necessary to account for changes in law and company policy.”

The Future with Blockchain in the Legal Profession

Besides the revolution in smart contracts, blockchain is already changing many other aspects within the legal industry, such as:

Cryptocurrency and the Tokenization of Assets – The creation of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, which use the technology to keep track of ownership and trades, is how most people know blockchain. Digital tokens that represent real value or ownership of other tangible assets has become one of blockchain’s most widely watched developments. With companies and others issuing these tokens via Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) – raising more than $10 billion thus far this year – attention is being paid.

In the future, we could see all assets represented by these tokens, e.g., a car, house or painting, each a store of value represented by a token and making the transactions of leasing, renting or selling that asset far easier. This will have an impact on how we create and distribute wealth, further impacting the legal industry.

Digital Identity – With the 2017 Equifax breach of 160 million individuals’ private data, our Social Security numbers are nearing the end of their usefulness and a newer identifier may be created to replace them.

Recently at an MIT event, an organization named Sovrin described a new world where each of us will have a digital wallet containing all of our private information, including money, health records, log-ins to websites, birth certificate and driver’s license. Behind all of this information will be blockchain, enabled so there will no longer be a central point of breach where millions of people’s information can be exposed at once.

Legal Industry – Many have predicted that most administrative work now completed by law firms will be replaced with blockchain-enabled solutions – and in more specialized legal matters, such as due diligence, blockchain will have a similar oversized impact. Share ownership tables and company records will be transferred onto blockchain, allowing investors, acquirers and third parties to complete their diligence in less than one hour instead of the typical weeks or months. IPO registration offerings could be processed is less than a week instead of the typical six to nine months.

In a similar vein, Holland & Knight’s Dewey sees a significant change to law firms’ back offices. “When a law firm closes a loan for a bank it needs to send over copies of the executed loan documents and other post-closing deliveries… often, this doesn’t happen,” says Dewey. Blockchain, however, would allow the law firm and the bank to share a common repository and tracking functionality, even if different front-end software solutions are used. “The increased efficiency of such a system would be significant and benefit both the firm and the bank.”

Clearly, blockchain is ripe for disrupting nearly every industry going forward, and the practice of law may feel the impact the most. Still, these are early days. Significant infrastructure must be built, and a great deal of legal guidance will be needed.

If there was ever a time to study blockchain technology and embrace it – and the opportunities it will create – the time for the legal industry is now.

Classification of Cryptocurrency: Coins, Tokens & Securitized Tokens

Originally published in the Legal Executive Institute

By Joseph Raczynski

One of the most contentious debates in the cryptocurrency world surrounds classification of blockchain-based digital assets, tokens and cryptocurrencies. A panel at the recent Thomson Reuters Regulation of Financial Services Conference discussing the basics of cryptocurrenciesexamined this argument. With more than 1,650 cryptocurrencies or tokens trading in the public domain, it is important to understand their nuanced differences.

Cryptocurrency

Dominating this conversation in the United States is whether specific coins are securities, and secondly, if a utility token can exist. In addressing the first part, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently shed some light by declaring both Bitcoin and Ethereum non-securities. This assertion defines that there is no expectation of equity or return on any investment in these virtual currencies. The overarching belief had held that Bitcoin is a currency and thus a competitor to the US Dollar or Euro; and Ethereum is more complicated.

Tokens

The original intent behind Ethereum was that it supported smart contracts by using their blockchain token called Ether or ETH. In this case, a token stands as a digitized tool to perform a service, similar to those physical token coins used in some video game arcades or laundromats. In this digitized version, the Ethereum platform was intended to perform a service and store more complex, automated, yet immutable code on their blockchain (for example, storing a contract on the blockchain that dictates a sell order if the stock of Amazon reaches $2,000 per share on January 1, 2020).

What differentiates Ethereum from Bitcoin is that the token ETH is used to upload and save that smart contract to a blockchain using “gas”, basically the payment of ETH for each transaction. Therefore, many argue that ETH is a “utility token”, performing a service, i.e. saving that contract to the blockchain. What complicates this is that many start-up tech companies are using Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) on the Ethereum platform to launch crowd-funding campaigns and raising money. The complication — raising money in this form — have some regulators and industry watchers arguing that these ICOs are more like securities, similar to stocks, even if they are sitting atop of the Ethereum token-based platform rather than on a stock exchange.

Tokenized Securities

Now, a hybrid product that is emerging quickly is the tokenized security. Recently at Consensus in New York City, a company called Polymath created a platform for anyone who wishes to raise money for their company quickly can do so by issuing tokenized securities. The primary difference with this model is that the issuer is offering shares or portions of ownership of the company. There is also a belief that these types of securities will eventually adhere to SEC regulation, which is yet to be determined. What drives the regulatory discussion is a 1946 Supreme Court ruling now called the Howey Test, which determine if something is a security or not. The tenets of the Howey Test are as follows:

  1.  It is an investment of money
  2.  There is an expectation of profits from the investment
  3.  The investment of money is in a common enterprise
  4.  Any profit comes from the efforts of a promoter or third party

 

For a token to be considered a security, each of the above must be true. The primary point of contention is around point four, “Any profit comes from the efforts of a promoter or third party”. This aspect is typically out of the hands of the investor and not something they can control. When these tokens are launched on third-party exchanges, this falls outside of that individual investors domain, and for many, nullifies the Howey Test.

Or as Ash Bennington of CoinDesk phrased it:

A long time ago, someone named Howey owned an orange grove.

Howey said: “I’ve got this orange grove and I’ve got no way to make money out of it — because I need money to make money.”

Tell you what. I’m going to sell you this orange grove and, in exchange, you get whatever profits are made from that little plot.

I’ll work the land. I’m going to pick the oranges. I’m going to squeeze the juice. You just pay me the money.

The plaintiffs said: “That’s a security.”

The SEC said: “That’s a security.”

Howey said: ‘No, no. That’s just selling plots of oranges.”

Ultimately, the Supreme Court said: “That’s a security” – because it passed this test: There was an investment of money. And a common enterprise. With the expectation of profit, primarily from the efforts of others.

Governments around the world are grappling with the classification of cryptocurrencies in what should become a multi-trillion-dollar industry within the next decade. With so much at stake for everyone from the garage startups to the Morgan Stanleys of the world, some regulation is inevitable. Most are merely hoping for clarity, not confines, which could hurt the innovation stemming from the once-a-generation revolutionary platform technology called blockchain.

Podcast: What the Heck is blockchain?

I had the pleasure of being a part of the Thomson Reuters Innovation Podcast series recently.  This was a discussion about blockchain.  In this talk with Katherine Manuel, Senior Vice President of Innovation in Strategy/Business Development, Jordan Kleinsmith – Director, Innovation in Strategy/Business Development and Sam Chadwick – Director of Strategy in Innovation and Blockchain in Strategy/Business Development.

For an in-depth read, check out more insights at: https://www.thomsonreuters.com/en/reports/blockchain.html

Listen to the Podcast on blockchain here.

 

Beyond Cryptocurrency: 5 Questions about the Future of Blockchain for Thomson Reuters Technologist Joe Raczynski

Written by Gina Scialabba and originally published by the Legal Executive Institute

Blockchain — we’ve all heard about it, and also heard that it will certainly disrupt the financial, legal and public sector worlds near you.

The real questions surrounding the future of blockchain, however, relates to the evolution of its virtual ledger technology and the ways it will change the way we do business — regionally, nationally and globally.

Financial professionals wonder how this digital ledger will impact their day-to-day activities such as regulatory compliance or combating money laundering. Legal professionals are asking how blockchain will revolutionize their practices. Public sector employees want to know how to incorporate blockchain to improve security and efficiencies.

However, the overarching question pertaining to blockchain, no matter what industry you work, is whether or not we trust the technology.

For answers, Legal Executive Institute spoke to Thomson Reuters Technologist and Futurist, Joseph Raczynski, who recently was a featured panelist at the three-city, 2018 Thomson Reuters Public-Private Partnership Forums (P3) which held its first event in New York City on March 7.

Raczynski also recently interviewed Judith Alison Lee, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Co-Chair of the firm’s International Trade Practice Group, about the nuts and bolts of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. (You can hear Part 1 and Part 2 of that interview here.)

Legal Executive Institute: In the financial services industry, blockchain is now touted as the future infrastructure of the industry. Clearly, this could be disruptive to traditional banking operations, but also may also enhance the way anti-money laundering (AML) professionals and regulators do their job. How do you see blockchain changing the way financial institutions reduce losses from economic crimes?

Joe Raczynski: There is tremendous promise with this technology in the banking industry. Its core strength is to create permanent, immutable, redundant ledgers, which are auditable. This is the Holy Grail of an accountant or anyone who wants to see a chain of events or track money.


If you’re riveted by blockchain and want to know more, you can catch Raczynski at further P3 events on April 24 in Charlotte, N.C. and on April 26 in Washington, D.C. (You can also follow Raczynski on Twitter at @joerazz.)


There are some significant challenges. Currently, virtual currencies or cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are unregulated, there is not a central authority that can dictate or control this, as by its very nature, it is decentralized. So, I could send $1 million in cryptocurrency to someone in Iran or North Korea in about 20 minutes, and that could pose problems for some governments. Another major issue that lies ahead are the anonymous virtual coins or tokens that are becoming more popular.

With these, any bad actor could use this to store or launder money without traceability. For the AML world this is probably its biggest challenge in the near term with blockchain technology.

Legal Executive Institute: Financial institutions spend tens of millions of dollars complying with regulations related to Know Your Customer (KYC) rules, as well as due diligence. What impact will blockchain have on KYC or other due diligence procedures?

Joe Raczynski: Fortunately blockchain has the possibility to create structured, yet decentralized data on people and businesses. These stores of information will be permanent ledgers of information. They will be another tool in the ongoing saga to identify people that investigators should be able to rely on.

Legal Executive Institute: Let’s turn to law firms for a moment. As blockchain technology matures, it seems likely we will continue to see applications impacting the legal profession. What role will blockchain play in contract form and estate planning? Should legal professionals be worried their jobs may become obsolete due to smart contracts or self-executing contracts?

Joe Raczynski: Lawyers should not be worried about their jobs becoming obsolete in the near future. However, in time, when smart contracts begin to truly take shape, it will make the drafting and execution of these documents more automated. In the majority of situations, you will have web forms that ask questions, anyone can fill out the answers, and then the document is drafted. Once the document is completed, it is stored on a blockchain. If there are contingencies — for example, sell all shares of a stock upon the death of Person A — the contract will do this. A “Smart Contract” is essentially a few pieces of code that executes or does something based on some perimeter. It is essentially an “if/then” statement.

blockchain

Thomson Reuters’ Joe Raczynski

Legal Executive Institute: Blockchain has a lot of potential to change the way government agencies work, both in the immediate future and with a long look ahead. How do you see blockchain changing the way public records are kept and maintained, such as census data or even birth and death records? Could you see these impacting day-to-day functions such as land conveyances and tile registries?

Joe Raczynski: The State of Illinois is already producing birth certificates on a blockchain. Delaware is moving all corporate records to a blockchain. This is happening now. Dubai plans on having all government records on a blockchain by 2020. In time, all public records will be on a blockchain, which should make it easier to track and interact with the files.

It will also provide higher levels of security and transparency and should be more efficient. As people start to use tokens for all assets that they own, tracking this via a blockchain will become even more important.

Legal Executive Institute: Will blockchain or cryptocurrencies change the way government works with the private sector?

Joe Raczynski: It is possible that some of the traditional models of records keeping which were once maintained by the government will become more open and not run through those traditional central authorizations but will be exchanged through private hands. The safeguard is that these transactions would be auditable as the chain of title will be transparent on the blockchain. It is feasible that you will not have government agencies involved in the oversight of this as they have in the past, instead, a nebulous network that all parties have insight into will evolve.

Leveraging blockchain to decrease data breaches, increase security

Originally published in Thomson Reuters AnswersOn

By Joseph Raczynski

In the not-too-distant future, blockchain will get personal – very personal. That’s a good thing when it comes to integrity of your digital identity.

The Internet is a complex space for identity management.  Every site has a login and password, and those sites which have federated their login credentials have become massive targets for hackers.  In addition, the largest institutions charged with holding onto private information have become single points of failure; e.g. Equifax and the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  As the security breaches have grown in size, so too has the importance of finding a new solution to protecting of data in our always-connected world.

The solution will soon be in our hands

In the not-too-distant future, you will have a digital wallet containing hundreds or thousands of Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs).  DIDs are described as a new type of globally resolvable, cryptographically verifiable identifier registered on a distributed ledger.  These will be unique, encrypted, addresses that each of us holds in a mobile app to verify something about us; e.g. our age, height or even personal preferences.  They will be granted by a trusted source, but we will hold on to these privately and have complete control over them.  As the Sovrin Foundation explains, “The next evolution of the Internet will be the creation of a common identity layer that allows people, organizations and things to have their own self-sovereign identity—a digital identity they own and control, and which cannot be taken away from them.” This monumental shift enabled through the use of blockchain will change the paradigm of ownership of identity from the traditional large organization like Equifax into private hands.

Submitted photo courtesy of Department of Homeland Security

How will DIDs work?

I would expect that in the next five to 10 years, everyone in the United States will be issued a new national identification number to replace our current social security number.  As you can see in the above graphic, an agency such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will issue this new number.  It will assure the person making the claim is who he or she says he or she is, and issue a DID with a private key (for their eyes only) and public key (for anyone to verify the ID) which the person holds in his or her digital wallet.  The DHS will also register proof of claim integrity on the permissioned blockchain (a vetted private blockchain).  Going forward when requested, the person can present his or her digital identification (public key) to the verifier (Border Patrol, an employer, IRS) who can then validate this claim’s integrity through the secured blockchain registry.  Most of these exchanges of information will use a QR code so the DID can be scanned with ease.  This new verification system will create significant efficiencies and will be much more secure.

Eventually, this will be expanded beyond government issued identifiers, though at MIT Sovrin, it was mentioned the IRS is looking at this solution now.  You will soon have DIDs for access to anything you normally use for login and passwords on websites, access to your house and starting your car.  Anything that requires a key or login now will leverage this new technology.  Self-sovereign identity flips the old model of control from central authorities, or single points of failure to individuals.

MIT Legal Forum on AI & Blockchain Busts Open New Thinking

By Joseph Raczynski

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab – Cambridge MA – October 2017 – In one of the more unique and unusual conferences I have participated, the inaugural MIT Legal Forum on AI & Blockchain was a meeting of 200 minds from across academia, law firm, and corporations big and small.  It included IBM Watson as well as CodeX, NASA scientists, Baker & Hostetler, a host of other Am Law firms, and startups galore.  Led by the gregarious MIT visiting scientist, Daniel “Dazza” Greenwood, who served as the master of ceremonies for the two day workshop.

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Dazza Greenwood – MIT Scientist – summarizing the day

What was so unusual was that after the keynote each day, the planning for the remainder of the breakouts happened in real-time.  Dazza asked the crowd who would like to run a session and to describe the topic.  Once that individual did so, Dazza then asked who would like to join that working session.  The sessions were added to the agenda immediately followed by the commencing of those sessions.  From the attendees the following topics bubbled up on day one:

  • Identity Management & Records Keeping – Chris Jagers and Joseph Raczynski
    • How do we begin the discussion of digital records on blockchain?
  • Automated LLC – James Miller and Harrison Perl
    • Project to checklist requirements to incorporate or register legal entities in all 50 states
  • VAT Coin – Joseph Kessler and Brian Ulicny
    • Governance is 75% of entities. Is that correct?  Does it fit this context?
  • Energy Utility Token – Jonathan, Michael, and Harrison
    • How can such a process be securitized and how do we get the revenue back in a way that is sustainable and trusted by investors?
  • Supply Chain – Jaipat and Gurvinder
    • Is there a need for a new area of law called, “Provenance Law”?
  • Bankruptcy – Bob Craig and Nina Kilbride
    • With cryptocurrency as collateral, how do you classify the property? How do you perfect ownership rights?

I had the opportunity to join several of these discussions over the two days.  Honestly there were one or two slight misses, where the tables were large and attendees from various backgrounds of familiarity on blockchain and AI led to a mixed conversation.  However, the hits – they were transformative.  How often do you have top legal minds from Am Law firms, NASA engineers, MIT data scientists and nonprofits mix together on a process surrounding “smart contracts” that leverage algorithms to develop an automated workflow?  The session called ditDIY Composable Smart Contracts, Modular Law – led by Vienna Loi, was a hit.  The NASA scientist and her team are actively building this concept out.  Think of it as code (smart contract) that when a certain event is triggered kicks off another event which continues to invoke other acts, all of which are recorded and maintained on a blockchain.  It is the future of this space.

The excitement was palpable.  You could see the evolution that is beginning to take place in Legal as we go from a general awareness of these technologies, to conceptual design of possible solutions.  MIT is fostering the creativity through this platform in their first attempt at bringing all parties to the table.

In the next post, I will dive deeper into Digital Identity using blockchains.