Juridical and political impacts from the use of decentralised trust technologies. The case of Blockchain technology


Objectives

The object of this thesis would be to uncover the impacts of distributed trust technologies in the domains of law, political science and administrative science. The case of Blockchain technologies could be mobilised to support the demonstration.

Blockchain, a peer to peer trust model, is a disruptive technology, it has the capacity to lead to changes in several fields such as economy, or concerning social and legal issues.

Blockchain is a technology used to store and pass transparent information that is secured by algorithms, it works without any central control system as it is shared by every user, without any intermediary. It is an open source database which is decentralised and distributed via connected nodes in the network, it is used to stock the data and cannot be modified, attacked or stopped (Blockchain.fr). Besides it underlies the undisputable advantage of being quasi-instantaneous and of generating substantial economy savings by suppressing fees attached to classical intermediation (banks, lawyers, insurances).

The technology appeared in 2008 with the Bitcoin digital currency, an application of which it constitutes the frame. Blockchain contains potentialities that go far over uniquely financial transactions. Its applications can concern notarial acts, protection of private data – as if it was in a safe – in crowdfunding, but it can also concern the conclusion of contracts – with smart contracts – and collaborative work. In this perspective, we can take the example of an automatic lawyer service that was launched at the end of 2015, allowing the certification of documents such as standard contracts that are generated by artificial intelligence. The fields of application are countless as the Blockchain can replace any centralised “trusted third-party” (banks, notaries, cadastres…) that slows down and makes more complex any exchange, by distributed digital systems.

 

Philosophy

The philosophy underlying this disruptive technology is to allow users to emancipate from traditionally centralised regulation, in other words, to escape from legal regulation. Law is in competition with “computer code” concerning the securing of social relations. Computer codes are new types of architectures capable of creating legal frameworks, for instance contracts or devices able to resolve conflicts, that don’t exist in the physical world but that are however effective in the virtual world.

 

From the legal standpoint, many questions arise then:

Questions of responsibility first. Insofar as the objective of Blockchain is to eliminate intermediaries and administrators, who will endorse the responsibility of an illegal activity based on a smart contract? Besides, who will be competent to stop the illegal activity in question?

Next, questions of competence and of proof could arise. The experimentation of voting in a decentralised system showed that if an algorithm can perfectly secure the voting process, it is not optimal to ensure, for instance, that there is only one voter.

Also, concerning litigation, will the judge accept the certification of a judicial document made by Blockchain and not by a notary or a lawyer? Can a legally unintended system of proof reasonably substitute itself to the Law?

Finally, the control of private data by the users themselves such as the “Privacy by design”, that is to say taking in consideration aspects attached to the protection of privacy from the very design of the information and communication system, which is a promise made by Blockchain technology, this fits into the perspective of the actual reform of the Law of data protection as it is previewed by the drafting of an European regulation and by the national draft bill for a Digital Republic. The interrogation will be to know to what extent Blockchain will really participate to this protection.

Broadly speaking, the question of positioning the Law will be posed as it is unlikely that legal regulation will be set aside of the whole device, even just to prevent the use of this process in some hypothesis (for instance illegal activities or sovereignty activities).

 

From the political science and administrative science standpoint, more questions could by asked.

Since Blockchain technologies aim to the suppression of intermediaries, it is essential to rethink their role. The one of the lawyers, the notaries or even the judges. The judiciary world, taken in the perspective of the “trusted third-party”, will be necessarily impacted by these evolutions. A reflexion on the State’s role will also take place insofar as, in this outline, the post-modern regulatory state seems to be finally overrun.

But this problematic supposes that this model that is per essence decentralised, is also viable without any governance, and this is not sure. One can notice a technical heterogeneity today, especially regarding the processing capacities of the network that are slower than the classical processing systems (for instance in banking transactions where the visa system is more effective than the transfer via Blockchain). Yet no institution can impose any standards.

In fine, the “trustless” technology by which confidence is placed in the technology itself, reveals the capacity of technology to overrun human intervention. Yet, in some cases, for application that have more of a “social” extent (for instance Uber and AirBnb), it can be useful to introduce new protocols, as an additional “trust layer”, in order to ensure social interaction between users (P. De Philippi). This testifies of the necessity of having a governance of which we still need to define the nature.

 

Supervisors:

  • Lucie Cluzel-Metayer, Public Law professor, Université de Lorraine, IRENEE
  • Philippe Cossalter, Law professor, Université de la Sarra, Member of the institute for juridical informatics

Thesis committee: Primavera De Filippi, researcher at CERSA-CNRS and Harvard University

Discipline: Public Law, Private Law, Fundamental Law, Political Science, Administrative Science

Doctoral school: SJPEG

 

How to apply

In order to prepare a PhD thesis within the Lorraine Université d’Excellence Program, the interested candidate should consult the PhD topics offered in each social and economic challenges.
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