I am delighted to be here at the opening of this exciting event. I know, we often say “exciting” about our events – and usually for a good reason. But this time we are talking about something REALLY exciting: a technology that has a potential to revolutionize the way we operate – in governance, finance, judicial reform and identity management. It has a potential to provide unprecedented transparency to everything from the tuna, coffee, and cotton supply chains to soil certification and to transform the way governments capture voter information; collect taxes; issue passports and visas; and record patent and trademark registries, among other applications.
This event today is also exciting because for the first time – at least in this region – the U.S. Embassy is directly supporting a TechCamp on blockchain. Last, but not least, I am excited to welcome our guests from overseas, Pacific Island nations and all of you to this forum where you will examine the current and possible future applications of blockchain technology, meet with experts in the field and network with your counterparts from other countries. And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Alison Burchell, Permanent Secretary for Education, Heritage and Arts for stepping in for his Excellency Attorney General Aiyaz-Sayed Khaiyum who initially agreed to attend this event, but had to change his schedule due to approaching Cyclone.
Since the technology’s creation in 2008, nearly $1.55 billion have been invested globally in blockchain ventures – most of them in finance, information and communications startups. In a 2015 World Economic Forum survey, experts predicted that 10 percent of the global GDP will be stored in blockchain networks by 2027.
Blockchain is being tested as a means to extend more control to individuals over how their personal information is shared and monetized, and how they can access critical services. Blockchain projects are piloting the use of new economic identities for vulnerable populations —refugees, small farmers, women, low-wage workers, the poor — as well as for improving the efficiency of delivering humanitarian assistance.
The financial sector has taken a keen interest in harnessing blockchain technology to increase security, eliminate fraud, and give more people access to banking. Governments are exploring the possibility of using the technology to prevent fraud and to deliver aid more transparently. Experts surveyed by the World Economic Forum predicted that a government would collect taxes through blockchain networks for the first time in 2023 – five years from now.
The United States government is also keenly interested in this technology. On 10 October 2017, it welcomed over 265 participants to the Blockchain@State Forum – a discovery workshop organized by the Department of State, interagency partners, and private sector stakeholders, to explore both the policy implications and potential applications of blockchain in advancing U.S. diplomacy and development goals.
As with any powerful, fast-emerging technology, there are significant and important questions about regulation, governance, norms, and standards. So, in addition to talking about the technology’s potential, we will also be talking in our sessions here about things policymakers will have to be on guard about.
For example, pseudonymous or fully anonymous public blockchains could potentially shield some financial transactions from regulatory oversight, challenge our ability to track illicit transactions and communications, and undermine targeted sanctions. There are also privacy and access concerns regarding the use of a blockchain-based “digital ID,” as it is called, as well as making sure that individuals in such systems have recourse to correct false or misleading information.
There is no going back. But we need to understand that technological innovation brings challenges as well as significant opportunities. Governments play a role in fostering innovation and giving the private sector space to innovate. Governments must also work to build regulatory frameworks that provide needed protections but doesn’t stifle innovation. Regulatory processes should include robust stakeholder consultation.
The United States government supports just such a multi-stakeholder approach. And that’s the whole point of the TechCamp that we start today. In organizing this event, we want to support the exchange of ideas and knowledge. We want to provide the opportunity for experts, innovators, stakeholders – both in business and government – to discuss, to brainstorm, and to network. I hope you’ll find our TechCamp useful and I’m wishing you a fruitful discussion in the next two days.