Blockchain Governance and the Outer Space Treaty

There was a hypothesis lingering at the back of my head, claiming all blockchains should be regarded as the Common Human Heritage. Below is an attempt to describe the rest of it.

I’ve read some CleanApp’s articles about Law and Governance a hundred times, and I’ve always wanted to add we need a regime for utilization of blockchain the same way we once needed a special regime for the deep seabed, Antartic or for example the lunar regolith. The analogies are appealing! And this is exciting.

Three chapters below folks: (1) Analogies, (2) Regime, and (3) Exposure. The last chapter addresses issues such as responsibilities, authorization and supervision, signaling, liability, and jurisdiction. The list is not exhaustive.

Brace yourself, we’re about to start.

1. ANALOGIES

All three areas or legal dimensions mentioned above (deep seabed, Antarctic and outer space) are today subject to public international law, treaties signed amongst numerous nation-states, which decided to form a consensus around the distribution of power and resources when it comes to the property owned by all humankind.

Blockchain is different. For the lack of better words, it can be ‘’private’’ or ‘’public’’. Some prefer to describe relations with terms such as ‘’permissioned’’ and ‘’permissionless’’. It makes a huge difference if a code can be used by whomever or permissions are given due to qualifications and standards imposed by a pre-defined group which thus regulates and controls the utilization of such a code.

Returning to the common heritage of all mankind — you cannot have public and private Antarctic. At least not at the same time. Antarctic is public, it’s res communis. For now. The fact that we have a regime, comes out of consensus reached amongst nation-states representatives. One thing needs to be acknowledged right away — it’s hard to effectively defend international regimes. States can defend their rights before the International Court of Justice, yet the execution of judgments or rules is more about politics, diplomacy and the gentlemen’s agreements.

2. REGIME

We could say blockchain just needs a regime, an agreement between all users to utilize it in a way that prohibits appropriation (or as Vlad calls it ‘capturing’) and where use and exploitation are conducted for the benefit of all mankind.

Replacing the words ‘’outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies’’ of the Treaty on principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies (The Outer Space Treaty, 1967) with the term Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) results in the following principles:

The exploration and use of DLT shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.

With some modification the next paragraph could easily read out like this:

DLT shall be free for exploration and use by all users without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas DLTs.

Very promising, very opened and very permissionless. And above all, in line with the latest Crypto Law #2: Keep Crypto Law Legal.

What about modified Article II and III:

DLT is not subject to appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.
Parties to the Treaty shall carry on activities in the exploration and use of DLT in accordance with international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, in the interest of maintaining international peace and security and promoting international co-operation and understanding.

Sweet. So what does that mean? No nuclear weapons? Read on the Article IV:

Parties to the Treaty undertake not to place on-chain any proposal carrying out the activities or resulting in consequences similar to the ones of nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on-chain, or otherwise station such weapons in DLT in any other manner.
DLT shall be used by all Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes. The establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military maneuvers on DLT shall be forbidden. The use of military personnel for scientific research or for any other peaceful purposes shall not be prohibited. The use of any equipment or facility necessary for peaceful exploration of DLT shall also not be prohibited.

KUDOS to all drafters of this phenomenal Outer Space Treaty!

3. EXPOSURE

There’s often debates about responsibility and exposure… so why don’t we deal with it in a distributed manner? Blockchain emerged out of hatred and reluctance toward state monopoly, which is why bitcoin maximalists and extreme reductionism still trigger radical and revolutionary provocations. An antipode of extremism is yet another extreme, rarely a solution. Thus, the distribution of power and responsibilities shall not completely disregard the systems which evolved for thousands and thousands of years. Rather it shall make an upgrade.

Comparing BC to international law is not about finding an alternative, a new hierarchy. Rather, it’s about finding all the gaps of the so-called off-chain governance system and filling it up with as much flexible on-chain, automated and consensus-based regime.

Who should be responsible for actions taken on the chain, once the users make decisions through a voting system? Can one escape international responsibility?

Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for their activities on DLT, and for assuring that their activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty.

Now, here are the important parts BC governance needs to address.

  1. Authorization and Supervision
  2. Signaling
  3. Liability and Jurisdiction
  4. Miscellaneous

1. Authorization and Supervision

The activities of ___________ on DLT, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate _______________ to the Treaty.

Participating at Aracon2019 and hearing their own governance structures, authorization and supervision seem rather DAO-istic or DApp-istically oriented.

2. Signaling

With regard to signaling, international law has numerous rules and case law suggests prompt notifications, consultations, and due diligence play a huge role when responsibility is being disputed.

Utilizing the DLT, Parties to the Treaty shall be guided by the principle of co-operation and mutual assistance and shall conduct all their DLT activities with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other Parties to the Treaty. Parties to the Treaty shall pursue utilization of DLT so as to avoid its harmful contamination and adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of a harmful code and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose.
If a Party to the Treaty has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned by it, would cause potentially harmful interference with activities of other Parties on DLT, it shall undertake appropriate consultations before proceeding with any such activity or experiment.
A Party to the Treaty which has reason to believe that an activity or experiment planned or executed by another Party on DLT would cause potentially harmful interference with activities in the peaceful use of DLT, may request consultation concerning the activity or experiment.

3. Liability and Jurisdiction

Normally, those who conduct authorization and supervision are internationally liable for damage. Liability is always closely connected to responsibility. Both depend on the ownership as well as retention of jurisdiction and control.

A Party to the Treaty on whose premise a DAO or DApp is launched on a DLT shall retain jurisdiction and control over such a phenomenon. Ownership of objects launched on DLT or constructed on a DLT, or of their component parts, is not affected by their presence on DLT or by their return to the physical world.
Such phenomenons found beyond the limits of a Party of the Treaty on whose premise they are carried out, shall be returned to that Party, which shall, upon request, furnish identifying data prior to their return.

4. Miscellaneous

There’s much more. One could perhaps address the Insurance and Allocation of Funds for Emergency Cases. Regarding the distribution of funds and creation of resources through DLT, one must admit we’re far from being transparent.

When thinking of who shall have rights over the extracted minerals (be it on Earth or in space), one thinks in terms of incentives and RoI. It’s easy when there are three companies in the World investing in the development of technology which allows extraction of minerals. But with thousands of developers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, traders entering a room — who’s paying who? Can we see through our anthropological supply chain and make new social patterns, new types of governance?

Why is it that talks around the investment of time and money in BC so often results in BS?

Let’s simplify a couple of things and stick to the point. The network was worth a million and just made a few billion, but where is the value added? Is the added value distributed on the premise of do-ocracy? Plutocracy? Meritocracy? Where are benefits being collected, who is paying what and can we upgrade our social protocols with a little help of tech?

We want to build human-centric, anti-fragile systems, which will be scalable and product-oriented. And we’re doing so in time and space where human understanding is a limited resource.

I’m the Head of Advocacy at European Blockchain Hub but opinions are my own. Any clarification will be delightfully accepted and critique thrown to trash. Unless, of course, the power of argument prevails.

You can find me on Twitter or write me an email: anja@eubchub.eu.