Records in the "Chain"
This research project focuses on blockchain technology as one component of investigating the broader research question “How can emerging technologies be leveraged to benefit Canadians?”
As an emerging technology, there is no universally agreed definition of the blockchain, but it is often described as a distributed ledger that maintains a continually growing list of publicly accessible records secured from tampering and revision. Over time, the blockchain is said to create a persistent, immutable, and ever-growing public ledger that continually updates to represent the latest state. Since the launch of the first blockchain, Bitcoin, in 2009, innovation and investment in this technology has moved at a rapid pace. In 2014 and 2015 alone, more than $1 billion of venture capital was invested in the emerging blockchain ecosystem, and the rate of investment appears to be doubling annually. Some even say that blockchain will follow the Internet in being the next, big transformative technology.
Although the roots of blockchain technology are in cryptocurrency, many of the innovative uses for the blockchain relate to records and recordkeeping. Already, we see several examples of the generation, securing, and storage of records on the blockchain, including production of “smart” self-executing contracts; recording of marriage agreements; registration of land titles; intellectual property rights registration; certification of academic qualifications; and even documentation of personal identity.
Given the pace at which use of blockchain technology for recordkeeping is growing and the societal significance of the records now being generated and/or stored on “chain”, there is no time to waste in investigating the use of blockchain for recordkeeping. Thus, this research project aims to: 1) investigate the conditions (including legal requirements, standards, principles, techniques, and technologies) needed to ensure the long-term preservation of the integrity of records created and/or maintained using blockchain systems and 2) investigate the suitability of blockchain technology to support record keeping and archival functions and activities.
Objectives: Building on this prior work, and to answer the aforementioned research questions, this project has two general aims:
- to investigate the conditions (including legal requirements, standards, principles, techniques, and technologies) needed to ensure the long-term preservation of the integrity of records created and/or maintained using blockchain systems.
- to investigate the suitability of blockchain technology to support recordkeeping/archival functions and activities.
Within Aim 1, the specific research objectives will be:
- to determine what kind of blockchain systems generate and store records;
- to define the conceptual requirements for guaranteeing the reliability and authenticity of records in blockchain systems;
- to identify and examine in depth the social, management, operational, legal, and technical issues surrounding the generation and storage of records using blockchain systems in order to determine the possible effects of blockchain systems on the lives of citizens, institutions and governments;
- to assess the conceptual requirements for guaranteeing the reliability and authenticity of records in blockchain systems against different administrative, juridical, cultural and disciplinary points of view;
- to develop guidelines to assist blockchain system developers to integrate requirements for guaranteeing the reliability and authenticity of records in their blockchain systems;
Within Aim 2, the specific research objectives will be:
- to assess the capabilities of blockchain systems to support recordkeeping/archival functions (e.g., registration, records classification, appraisal, legal discovery management, retrieval, transfer, and system migration);
- to develop guidelines, procedures and methods for records professionals on the use of blockchain systems in recordkeeping functions;
- to develop guidelines and methods for blockchain system developers to integrate requirements to support recordkeeping/archival functions into blockchain systems.
The project will also have two further general objectives:
- to refine and further elaborate diplomatic and archival theory and methods, concepts and principles on the basis of the results of the above activities;
- to ensure transfer of the knowledge generated by this research – including actual examples and success stories – to appropriate local, national, international stakeholders, and Canadian citizens as well as to those involved in blockchain standard making initiatives, such as the Canadian mirror committee TC307 working on an International Standard on Blockchain Technology and W3C’s Blockchain Community Group, working on web blockchain standards, in which initiatives the Principal Investigator is a participating member.