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After eight months, an update on the Blockchain Alliance

The Blockchain Alliance was announced last October. Since then it has grown from about 20 to over 50 members, including digital currency companies, law enforcement groups, and regulatory bodies from all over the world. But what has it been up to? 

Last October, Coin Center and the Chamber of Digital Commerce announced that they had teamed up with our firm, Steptoe & Johnson LLP, to create the Blockchain Alliance, a coalition of industry members and government agencies focused on improving dialogue and engagement between the private and public sectors on digital currencies and blockchain technology.  The Blockchain Alliance is a resource for the blockchain community to understand the interests and concerns of government agencies regarding the technology and its applications.  At the same time, it’s a resource for law enforcement and regulators, a forum where they can feel comfortable asking technical questions to some of the brightest minds in the Bitcoin and blockchain space.

The basic idea is that by educating law enforcement directly about this technology, we can reduce their fear or anxiety about it, and make them less likely to overreact to it.  That in turn makes it less likely that lawmakers will overreact as well.  And of course it’s helpful for industry to hear about what law enforcement is worried about in terms of the use of the technology for illegal purposes.

That’s what happened in the early days of the Internet—the nascent commercial Internet was used primarily by criminals and pornographers.  So about 20 years ago, law enforcement agencies got help from Internet companies to learn how the technology worked, so they could improve their capacity to go after criminals who misused that technology to facilitate their crimes.  That effort went a long way toward dialing down concerns about the Internet.

Through the Blockchain Alliance, we’re trying to do the same thing for digital currencies and the blockchain.  The critical difference is that this time, the industry reached out to law enforcement, not the other way around.  The Blockchain Alliance was created by industry, and it’s our member companies and organizations that deserve the credit for their vision in recognizing why this is so important for the ecosystem, and for their determination in making it a reality.

As Coin Center’s Jerry Brito said at the time of our launch, one goal of the Blockchain Alliance was to ensure that the capacity of Bitcoin and the blockchain to benefit so many is not overshadowed by the potential for misuse by a few.  Working together, we can promote an approach to enforcement and regulation that supports, rather than stifles, innovation.”

So what have we been doing to further these goals?  

Among other things, we’ve engaged in an extensive education campaign to help improve the depth and breadth of knowledge among US and foreign law enforcement officials and regulators.  That education campaign has included a series of webinar-style information sessions, with a curriculum focused on the areas where the law enforcement and regulatory agencies said they most wanted the education, and with the content provided by the industry members.  We’ve done four of these sessions to date, with many more to follow, but so far we’ve already reached nearly 500 law enforcement officials and regulators in well over a dozen countries.

We’ve also established an open and productive dialogue between industry and government agencies about trends in criminal misuse of this technology and other issues of concern.  That dialogue has been substantively beneficial to both sides.  But it has also been beneficial on another level, because it has gone a long way toward building trust and credibility.  That’s important so we can help ensure that when law enforcement goes after criminals misusing this technology, they don’t paint the companies with the same brush as the criminals.  The engagement between the private and public sectors through the Alliance is going a long way toward demonstrating that the companies in this space are not just good companies, but good corporate citizens.

When we launched last fall, we had about 15 industry members and 6 U.S. federal government participants. In the approximately 8 months we’ve been in operation, we’ve grown by leaps and bounds.  We now have over 25 companies and industry groups as members.  And we now have participants from 25 law enforcement and regulatory bodies around the world, including both the criminal and national security-related components of the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Internal Revenue Service, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, SEC, CFTC, FinCEN, the Attorney General’s Offices of California and Texas, and the Manhattan DA’s Office.  Internationally, we have key partnerships with Europol and Interpol as well as the Australian Federal Police and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

And we’re really just getting started.  

We’re proud to be working with so many great industry partners in this effort.  By educating law enforcement agencies and regulators around the world about digital currencies and the blockchain, and by reducing their fear and anxiety about this technology, we will go a long way toward creating an environment where innovation can flourish and where the full potential of this technology can be realized.  To learn more about the Blockchain Alliance and its member companies, please visit www.blockchainalliance.org.

Jason Weinstein is a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP and a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice.  He is the Director of the Blockchain Alliance and a member of the advisory boards of Coin Center, the Chamber of Digital Commerce, and BitFury.  Alan Cohn is of counsel to Steptoe & Johnson LLP and a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security overseeing strategy and policy.  He is Counsel to the Blockchain Alliance.

Based in Washington, D.C., Coin Center is the leading non-profit research and advocacy center focused on the public policy issues facing cryptocurrency and decentralized computing technologies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Our mission is to build a better understanding of these technologies and to promote a regulatory climate that preserves the freedom to innovate using permisionless blockchain technologies.