Ethical Use of Blockchain Technology-
Government Blockchain Association Position Statement on Digital Ethics
Blockchain Technology has witnessed an exponential growth over the past few years and an unprecedented adoption rate globally triggered by the current pandemic. Several countries have published their National Blockchain Strategies and numerous governments or prestigious international organizations have taken clear steps towards either blockchain adoption or approving legislation facilitating blockchain technology. Against a background of a profound global economic crisis digital transformation has become a focus point as it can provide the foundation for a Post-Covid19 era. Like AI, 5G, or IoT it is evident that Blockchain technology is and will be a key player, with 3 domains showing massive increases in volume over the last few months: blockchain powered supply chain management, financial transactions, and life-sciences. However, this global enthusiasm for rapid large scale adoption also poses several challenges such as long term sustainability, quality assurance, need for global regulatory guidelines and the need for development of a state of the art blockchain ethics framework. The purpose of this white paper is to highlight the need for ethical deployment of blockchain technology and should serve as a call to action by all relevant stakeholders such as states agencies, not for profit institutions, industry representatives, social partners, researchers etc. in order to promote the development a global ethics ecosystem.
There is a clear void globally in ethical governance with no existing guidelines designed to meet the needs of the digital era and the rapid exponential technological advancements we are faced with. Although several countries have been leading the charge and already developed more advanced blockchain legal, tax or regulatory frameworks, there is no current blockchain ethics framework published. However, there have been a few articles highlighting the need for developing a robust global ethics framework, as well as clear ethics implementation guidelines for each country that would harmonize with their corresponding legal, regulatory and financial ecosystems.
The GBA is a strong advocate for ethical blockchain technology deployment and aims to develop a comprehensive Ethical Blockchain Framework that can serves a as a catalyst for all relevant stakeholders globally. In addition to this white paper, the framework would include: Blockchain Code of Conduct Guidelines, Ethics Principles and Values, an Ethics Implementation Toolkit. The Blockchain Ethics Implementation Toolkit would include: a template for Blockchain Code of Ethics, Blockchain Bill of Rights, Blockchain Ethics Policy, Blockchain Ethical Principles, Blockchain Ethics Education Program, Blockchain Ethics Certification and Blockchain Ethics Risk Assessment that would all serve as guidelines for each government or organization wishing to either develop a de novo blockchain ethics program or to update their existing ethics or compliance programs when deploying blockchain technology.
THREATS & BARRIERS
As digital technologies become an integral part of our daily life and deeply embedded into every industry it is important for all participants of the Blockchain Ecosystem to have trust. In order to achieve large scale adoption and long term sustainability of blockchain technologies it is imperative to have a structured, proactive and holistic approach in developing the ethical framework. Trustworthiness, security, adequate data governance, integrity, non-discrimination, transparency and accountability are all ethical principles that will need to be addressed as part of any Blockchain ethics compliance program. Additionally, the societal perspective and impact on the environment globally will also have to be included in an effort to mirror other digital ethical frameworks such as those for Ethical Deployment of Artificial Intelligence. The concerns about negative impact blockchain technologies have on our environment will have to be overcome and can be addressed by incorporating eco-ethics into any government or organizational guidelines. Besides trustworthiness, another other threat identified is the need to show ROI by many key players in the industry. Having a balanced, cross-disciplinary approach when developing ethics programs will ensure that ethical principles are embedded into all legal, risk, financial, operational and human resource aspects of those organizations. Last but not least, it is important to design the ethical programs in a manner that allows the organization to maintain excellence, competitive advantage and the ability to foster innovation. Therefore, ethical frameworks are meant only as guiding principles and it will be essential for each organization to develop their unique programs that are harmonized with their overall enterprise strategy.
Blockchain technology has the potential to be a conduit for economic development and have a long lasting impact from a societal and environmental perspective. If deployed appropriately, not only can we mitigate any potential negative consequences but blockchain can become a key driver of digital transformation and the ethical frameworks can serve as a blueprint for other novel complex technologies such as quantum & edge computing, 5G, IoT, IoM etc.
Blockchain has already demonstrated a tremendous impact on the global economy and during this pandemic it actually has become the preferred technology given its unique benefits such as access, scalability, transaction speed, immutability and automation. During this pandemic we have observed trends of increased blockchain technology use in trade, cross-border financial transactions, mobile payments, supply chain, life sciences, e-government, food safety etc. Experts agree that the blockchain market will grow at an even high CAGR than predicted pre-Covid19. The total market size is expected to reach a valuation of $176B by 2025 and $3.1T by 2030 with a CAGR at or above 70% with slight variations depending on the domain (finance, retail, supply chain etc). The recent initiatives in Asia, Australia and the EU to transition towards e-government and promote legislation designed to promote blockchain technology deployment are also expected to have a profound impact on voting, education, digital currency use. The recent focus on Blockchain by the World Economic Forum and the World Bank, as well as the UN have also helped reduce the lingering misinformation or misconceptions related to this technology and have reduce the resistance to adoption.
The onus is currently resting with the blockchain community to leverage this favorable environment, develop state of the art ethical frameworks that enhance stakeholder confidence even further and will allow us to build a global blockchain ecosystem of excellence, sustainability and trust. In order to achieve that, we encourage investing in ethics education, certification and talent development, as well as having a clear accreditation process for organizations that have designed and implemented blockchain or digital ethics programs.
BUILDING A DIGITAL ECOSYSTEM
Pre-Covid we were already experiencing a digital transformation wave globally. Currently, one could state we are in the middle of a digital transformation Tsunami and experts predict ongoing rapid digital transformation for the next decade with strong disruptive potential on certain industries. Therefore, it would be wise to develop ethical frameworks that not only address blockchain technology, but also aim to provide guidance for interoperability with all other technologies such as AI, 5G, IoT/IoM/IoB, Quantum Computing, Edge Computing, Genomics, Brain-Computer Interfaces etc. While many ethical concepts can be extrapolated to all these technologies, there are digital ethical nuances and complexities for each that should be addressed by subject matter experts within each of those technologies. Additionally, publishing a blockchain ethics framework would hopefully also stimulate stakeholders and experts in philosophy, law, finance etc to weave some of these principles into their frameworks.
Promoting the adoption of a global blockchain ethics framework also demands planning for the future. There are several long term strategies that the blockchain ethics community could and should consider.
First, ensuring a process exists for maintaining ethics across the blockchain lifecycle. Too often all efforts are only directed towards design and implementation of an ethics program and no resources are being allocated towards long term quality assurance, quality control, ongoing annual revisions and audits.
Second, it would be valuable to consider the creation of a center of excellence in blockchain ethics that would have a consortium-like governance and infrastructure in order to foster inter and cross disciplinary research.
Last, but not least one could envision that once each country has developed their blockchain ethics frameworks, it would be inspirational and intriguing to consider the launch of an International Center for Blockchain Ethics who’s vision and mission with be to maintain the standards of The Global Ethics Ecosystem.