Editor’s note:This article originally appeared in Blockchain Tech News, a Mobile Payments Today sister publication
Whether by accident or design, the Donald Trump presidential administration has been unpredictable. But, with its recent comments on the blockchain, the administration has been unusually consistent.
Various government agencies have in recent months stated their intention to investigate the use of blockchain technology for one purpose or another. And in comments at the Data Transparency 2017 conference in Washington, D.C., in late September, Margie Graves, acting federal chief information officer working out of the Office of Management and Budget, again said that the government is examining possible uses for the blockchain.
“With artificial intelligence and blockchain, the [White House] is exploring a whole range of capabilities that might be helpful to government,” Graves said at the event. She also said she plans to meet with Don Tapscott, a blockchain advocate, to explore further ways the government can use the blockchain.
A boon for the industry?
With young industries such as cryptocurrency and the blockchain, any form of interest from the government that doesn’t involve harsher regulation is good news.
“This is a positive step to see that kind of enthusiasm from the administration,” said Jason English, vice president of protocol marketing, Sweetbridge Inc., a network that leverages blockchain technology to enable solutions for global industries.
The United States government is not the only one to cozy up to the blockchain. The Russian government, which has at various times and in various degrees asserted its opposition to any nongovernment cryptocurrency, has been warming up to the idea of using blockchain for government services.
What type of services can the blockchain offer?
Government services could apply the blockchain in a number of use cases. For instance, the U.S. Postal Service released a study last year showing how it could use the blockchain for tasks such as identity management.
“One really important area is the level of accountability transparency with different types of data,” English said. As an example, he said that various government agencies could share data on criminal and terrorist activities to help improve law enforcement.
On the domestic side, the blockchain could be especially useful in streamlining the tax process, as it would facilitate more efficient communication between state governments and the federal government. It could also be useful for protecting sensitive consumer banking and financial data against intrusion by foreign or domestic criminal groups.
In an interview, Bharath Rao, CEO of Leverj, suggested that governments could even launch their own cryptocurrencies. This might be particularly helpful in developing or emerging economies that need a stable and trustworthy currency managed according to more systematic, ironclad rules.
What about the Trump chaos?
The Trump administration has had an historically high turnover rate, with many advisors leaving or being fired within just the first year. This turnover has also contributed to — or resulted from — an unprecedented degree of controversy and internal discord within Trump’s inner circles.
Considering its reputation for self-contradiction, might the administration suddenly change its mind about investing in blockchain technology?
English doesn’t see this happening, if only because, with all of the other distractions currently at play in Washington, D.C., it’s unlikely the government will turn its attention toward blockchain regulation anytime soon.
We still need clarity
Despite this good news, blockchain — like any groundbreaking and disruptive new technology — does need some major regulatory clarity.
With so many contradictory, unclear or simply as-yet-unwritten state laws and government regulations, it will be difficult for many blockchain entrepreneurs to know for certain that they are actually operating within the law.
English said his company has hired more lawyers than the average blockchain startup for this very reason.
Rao said that the cryptocurrency space tends to be highly skeptical of regulators, whom they suspect of simply wanting to clamp down on cryptocurrency.
But in his own experience, Rao said, most regulators just want to know how they can perform their jobs more efficiently, and companies in the blockchain space can help by doing as much as they can to build frameworks for compliance.
It might not be the best answer the industry could hope for, but at a time when the way forward is so hard to predict, it will have to do.