The Next Play- Block Chain, Sports and Tourism

The excitement and intrigue surrounding cryptocurrency might have fizzled out, but alternate use cases of the blockchain have found roots for varied purposes, such as electronic health records, land records, farm insurance, digital certificates, etc., across as many as thirteen states in the country. 

 

In partnership with a platform called Yunometa, the State of Tamil Nadu recently launched the Women’s Chennai Open in the world of Metaverse and NFTs on September 10, 2022 (https://chennaiopen.co/). With this launch, the synergies between sports and technology are being explored further. Sports enthusiasts will now be able to view the Chennai Open (women) in the metaverse and watch it live. 

The Chennai Open Metaverse will have a tennis court where visitors can choose their avatars, including their favourite players, and play a match. There is also a media section where they can visit and get regular updates on the events’ matches. The metaverse will further have two more sections, i.e., an NFT museum section to display tourism and culture for the State of Tamil Nadu and a section for virtual tours of Tamil Nadu’s most well-known tourist destinations, such as Fort St. George, Meenakshi Temple, and Mahabalipuram Temple, amongst others. 

It seems to be a great initiative not only to enjoy sports in a new way but also to showcase the culture of Tamil Nadu, which may have a ripple effect on the tourism industry.

According to a recent study by Finder, released in 2022, India is ranked first in NFT gaming adoption. As per the report, around 34% of the Indian population has played P2E games[1], while 11% have shown a willingness to play them in the future.[2] Further, the size of the Indian eSports industry is expected to grow to INR 11 billion by FY2025 and potentially generate an economic impact of INR 100 billion between FY2021 and FY2025.[3]

While the statistics paint an impressive picture of the industry’s potential, it would be imperative to note that the legal landscape is definitely ‘glitching’ while trying to adopt a legislative pathway that would foster yet effectively regulate the sector.

At present, the policy focus of the government pertains to taxation only. However, with the increase in the participation of gamers, it is also prudent to address user safety issues by creating guidelines and standards for privacy, fraud prevention, structuring appropriate KYC procedures and payment mechanisms, and ensuring overall ease of doing business, regulatory certainty, and taxes.

The policy initiatives undertaken by the government in the recent past, including the Online Gaming (Regulation) Bill, 2022, which failed to address key concerns such as privacy, age-verification of players, defining casual online gaming, and money-based gaming, have shown a lack of a comprehensive approach to resolving the crucial issues. Similarly, the Inter-ministerial Panel on Online Gaming formed in May 2022 has, till now, only issued a slew of suggestions ranging from issuing a cap on deposit and withdrawal limits on the game winnings to recommending forming a regulatory body to distinguish between “games of skill” and “games of chance,” differential GST treatment, blocking prohibited gaming formats, and issuing a stricter stance on gambling websites.

In addition, the Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming, and Comics Task Force (AVGC) was set up in April this year and commissioned to formulate a national AVGC policy to attract foreign direct investment in the sector and to recommend a national curriculum framework, facilitate skilling initiatives, and boost employment opportunities within the sector has yet to submit its first action plan.

The Draft Virtual Online Sports Regulation Bill released by the Rajasthan government in May 2022[4] seems encouraging since it envisages structuring a licensing regime and establishing a Rajasthan Virtual Online Gaming Commission that shall be tasked with recommending conditions for licences, recognising “self-regulatory organisations,” and issuing advisories, caution notices, and recommendations to self-regulatory organisations. However, the Bill only applies to “esports competitions, fantasy sports, and derivative formats as provided by the sports engagement platforms” and leaves poker, rummy, ludo, and other such games of skill outside its purview.

It is safe to conclude that, at present, the central and the respective state governments have fallen short of formulating a cohesive set of legislation on online gaming. Further, with the integration of blockchain with gaming, it would also be crucial for the government to finally take a stand on laws regulating cryptocurrency in the country.

Shaping a comprehensive regulation on blockchain gaming would also necessitate the concerted deliberation and collaboration of various stakeholders in the industry, as current laws largely fail to address important concerns such as privacy, fraud, user safety, and so on.

It is safe to conclude that, at present, the central and the respective state governments have fallen short of formulating a cohesive set of legislation on online gaming. Further, with the integration of blockchain with gaming, it would also be crucial for the government to finally take a stand on laws regulating cryptocurrency in the country.

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The Blockchain Push in the Legal Industry

The transformative power of blockchain technology is visible in many areas. The adoption of decentralised blockchain systems that are arguably more tamper-proof than traditional software systems can greatly benefit the legal services industry too. This process has already begun, with a judge in the UK allowing legal documents to be served using blockchain technologies. Earlier this year, a US court too authorised service of the suit via a “hot wallet” in another cryptoasset case.

Fabrazio D’Aloia, the founder of an online gambling company, sued a cryptocurrency exchange and other cryptobrokerage platforms by claiming that his cryptoassets were fraudulently accessed and cloned. D’Aloia’s suit (in a UK court) claims that the perpetrators used their platform to impersonate another platform and led him to transfer money from his cryptocurrency wallets for what he believed to be legitimate trades. The legal documents were served by transferring a token on a blockchain via wallets that originally belonged to D’Aloia but were stolen or exploited by unknown fraudsters.

Implications of such an allowance by the Courts

Traditionally, suits and notices could only be served via the mechanisms agreed upon by the parties in advance; options included post; in person by a representative; fax; email or other forms of electronic communication. These channels were largely adequate when the identity and contact information of the parties were known or easily traceable. However, in the digital world, many frauds are increasingly being perpetrated by “unknown persons”. Especially in such cases, when the identity of fraudsters/cybercrooks is not known but the suit has to be served, the blockchain route is a useful option because it uses the “digital wallets” compromised by the scamsters to reach them.

The other significant aspect of the UK court’s decision goes beyond communication channels: it recognises that the defendants are “constructive trustees.” This essentially means that cryptoasset exchanges and other intermediaries can be held liable for breach of trust if they do not take the necessary measures to ringfence the underlying cryptoasset. This will be a deterrent and force various players in the crypto industry to be more diligent. Indeed, this may also have implications for digital supply chains in the banking and financial services space as well.

Blockchain can transform many more aspects of the legal industry

Blockchain also has applications in other areas, such as litigation, IPR matters (both applying for patents and resolving disputes by providing evidence of creation, first use, rights management, tracking distribution), etc. Smart contracts can make it easier for artists (singers, painters, writers, etc.) to get paid. Each use case will obviously involve different user personas (roles- e.g., the parties and their lawyers, competent authorities, courts, etc.). Maintaining records of events such as birth, health, marriage, adoption, change in citizenship, death, etc. on the blockchain can make it easier to maintain tamper-proof records. Even property records can be maintained on the blockchain.

Such innovations will save parties and lawyers significant time and effort. This is an important benefit in a country like India, where a lot of time is wasted only because of the inefficiencies in accessing records and verifying their authenticity. The risk of forgery increases the presence of false evidence in various cases, thus leading to protracted legal proceedings. Improving the efficiency of various processes in the justice delivery system can speed up court decisions and reviews of appeals.

It appears that the adoption of blockchain-based paradigms can reduce pendency in various courts across the country- a major challenge for the judiciary that affects not only ordinary citizens but also our country’s reputation in terms of the ease of doing business and speed of delivering justice.

There is a sense of inevitability that the digital revolution will accelerate the evolution of different industry sectors in different ways and at varying times. India, with its large pool of technical talent, is well-positioned to take the lead. Just as our DBT/UPI technology stacks, blockchain solutions too can become attractive to a large chunk of the world. But we have to move fast and in a concerted manner at all levels of our complex judicial system.

The adoption of decentralised blockchain systems that are arguably more tamper-proof than traditional software systems can greatly benefit the legal services industry too.

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Blockchain Technology: Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water!

Blockchain technology, which underlies cryptoassets, is revolutionary because it is the opposite of conventional software designs. Data is not recorded and stored in a central database, with identified database administrators responsible for updating it and maintaining security. Think of a blockchain as a shared digital ledger of transactions. Unlike a traditional database that relies on tables, blockchains use “blocks” to store information. Each block has a certain storage capacity. When a block is filled (with transaction data), it is closed and cryptographically linked to the previously-filled block. Thus, information is distributed across a “chain of blocks.”

Whenever a new transaction occurs on the blockchain, a record of that transaction is added to the ledger of every participant in the blockchain. This paradigm is supposed to make blockchain applications much harder to hack or for a small group of individuals to act in cohort with the objective of cheating or committing fraud. Cryptocurrencies and NFTs are built and traded using blockchain technology; in fact, blockchains were first used to create Bitcoin, the world’s first-and probably best-known-cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrencies have crashed- but is blockchain to blame?

In recent weeks, however, various cryptocurrencies have lost significant value, spurring numerous debates around their relevance, safety and sustainability. It appears that the drop in value of most cryptocurrencies was caused by the spectacular drop in Terra, a supposedly stable “fiat-backed” coin that was pegged to the USD, South Korean Won and Mongolian Tugrik and Luna, its sister cryptocurrency. It is believed that massive withdrawals from Anchor, a Terra-based decentralized finance (DeFi) protocol, led to Terra’s UST stablecoin being “depegged” from the USD.

It is not yet clear is why such massive withdrawals happened, and whether it was the result of some kind of conspiracy (the high correlation with stock market movements does suggest some wrongdoing, although it is not clear by whom and with what intent). It is sad that investors lost billions of dollars in a matter of hours and days, and although a new version of Terra coin has been launched, it is too early to say if it will succeed. Naturally, questions are being raised about the much-vaunted safety of blockchain technologies.

Trust is critical to any innovation- the key is to find better ways of applying blockchain

Whether it is the world of cryptoassets or real assets, a key lesson to be learnt is that: trustworthiness will always trump technology and other tangible traits that underlie any physical or financial asset. One must therefore resist the temptation to throw the baby out with the bathwater. In this case, I am referring to blockchains: we should not, based on the failure of cryptocurrencies, give up on blockchains. Instead, we must work on enhancing its trustworthiness even further, so that even inadvertent loopholes don’t arise.

Blockchain technology is finding application in a number of other areas as well. These include supply chain management, shipping & logistics, e-governance, energy, education and financial services. Food traceability, enforcing music rights, securing payments and even tamper-proof vaccination certificates can all be delivered via blockchain. Many of these use cases are already under implementation in India. Even the emerging metaverse world is expected to make use of blockchain concepts.

Image Credits:

Photo by Ivan Babydov: https://www.pexels.com/photo/gold-bitcoin-coin-on-background-of-growth-chart-7788009/

Blockchain technology is finding application in a number of other areas as well. These include supply chain management, shipping & logistics, e-governance, energy, education and financial services. 

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There is a Tide in the Affairs of Men…and Nations too

Three decades ago, the mobile revolution helped India overcome its communication challenges. Today, mobile phones have become a commodity in India. At least feature phones have, even if smartphones haven’t. But if you are old enough to remember India during the mid-1990s, you will know that India’s fixed line telephone density was very low at that time. Getting new telephone connections was tough, and involved waiting periods that often extended to several months. Due to ageing cables, making telephone calls was a challenge, and even when calls were connected, the quality was poor.  

Mobile communication technologies unleashed a powerful revolution that changed all this. Even far-off locations where laying fixed-line cables was a challenge got access to mobile towers and signals. So huge has been the transformative power of mobile technologies that an entire generation of regulatory reforms, business models and lifestyle paradigms all depend on the ubiquitous mobile phone.

Why is this relevant now?

Today, the world is on the threshold of a new breed of technologies such as AI/ML, Robotics, IIoT, Blockchain, Cloud, Analytics, Drones, Autonomous Vehicles, the Metaverse etc. Collectively and individually, these technologies have the potential to transform the world as we know it to a much greater degree. Indeed, the next decade may witness the greatest changes driven by technology in the recorded history of humankind.

The reason why it is important to be cognizant of this and take timely action. There are no established leaders in these areas because the sectors, their impact and tech are still evolving. India as a country has the technical and commercial savvy to harness these new technologies and drive innovations. What is needed is the educational and industrial framework to ensure that students get to acquire and sharpen their expertise in these new areas and start applying them to solving real-world problems. The National Education Policy is one step in this direction, but implementing it in the right way is key. Not just the curriculum, but the whole system of education must change. Internships must become more focused and integrated with the learning process, and not just a certificate-driven activity as it largely has been (and is).

It’s not just the central government that needs to act with alacrity and vision; state governments also need to formulate the right policies and rules to ensure that the country as a whole is able to take advantage of the massive disruption that is occurring all around us. Some states have woken up to this need and are putting in place plans to encourage entrepreneurs and attract investments into key sectors. The initial agreement to set up a chip-making facility in Karnataka is one example- but it’s early days yet, and many more hurdles need to be overcome.

The startup ecosystem, too, needs to readjust its approach to backing ventures in these new areas. Yes, the risk will be higher and the failure rate may be higher, but these ventures must be seen as proving grounds for technologies and ideas. Our private sector must also be ready to make the necessary investments to embrace these new technologies and lead innovation and adoption. Our large IT services industry must accelerate the shift to provide offerings built around these new areas. A lot is already happening, but the pace must pick up. India’s public sector, long regarded as a white elephant, can also play a key role by absorbing these technologies and innovatively deploying them in sectors of national importance, such as energy, agriculture, disaster recovery, infrastructure development, defence etc.

Achieving all this requires macroeconomic stability: inflation under control, relatively stable exchange rates and an adequate money supply. For a number of reasons that are outside the control of our government or individual companies, these conditions may not be met immediately. But as responsible citizens, business leaders, regulators, teachers and parents, each one of us has a role to play. Of course, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary also have their own roles to play.

To quote Brutus from Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”,

“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures”.

This is very much the situation that much of the world finds itself in at this time. If we in India can rise to the occasion, our continued ascendancy as a power is assured. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, and if we squander time and energy on needless and irrelevant issues, it is just as certain that we will not realise our potential. Let us make the right choice.

Image Credits: Photo by Pete Linforth from Pixabay 

Today, the world is on the threshold of a new breed of technologies such as AI/ML, Robotics, IIoT, Blockchain, Cloud, Analytics, Drones and Autonomous Vehicles, the Metaverse etc. Collectively and individually, these technologies have the potential to transform the world as we know it to a much greater degree. Indeed, the next decade may witness the greatest changes driven by technologies in the recorded history of humankind. The reason why it is important to be cognizant of this and take timely action. There are no established leaders in these areas because the sectors, their impact and tech are still evolving.

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Cryptocurrency and Money Laundering: Deciphering the Why and the How

The financial sector continues to revel in the advancement of disruptive technological innovations. Due to the attractive rates and fees, ease of access and account setup, variety of innovative products and services, and improved service quality and product features, financial technology is attracting more customers and investors today.[1] Despite the numerous advantages of these sectoral transformations, it is impossible to deny that the digitization and ease with which the internet has enabled all of us to function effectively in our day-to-day work has also created a space for virtual crimes.

Amidst the pioneering fintech revolution, cryptocurrency has emerged as a modern financial technology that can be used to easily launder money. Despite rapid market fluctuations and an uncertain legal status, cryptocurrency continues to captivate Indian investors, who are undeterred and unbothered by the associated risks of cyber fraud.

This article will explore how the crypto market nurtures a convenient and fertile ground for money laundering activities.

 

Cryptocurrency and India

 

The Indian regulatory market has had a hot and cold relationship with cryptocurrency over the years. The RBI, vide Circular DBR.No.BP.BC.104/08.13.102/2017-18 dated April 06, 2018[2], restricted all crypto transactions. However, in 2020, the Supreme Court effectively struck down the ban. As a result, the RBI stated in Circular DOR. AML.REC 18/14.01.001/2021-22 that banks and financial institutions cannot cite the aforementioned circular to warn their customers against dealing in Virtual Currencies. However, it did state that, “Banks, as well as other entities addressed above, may, however, continue to carry out customer due diligence processes in line with regulations governing standards for Know Your Customer (KYC), Anti-Money Laundering (AML), Combating Financing of Terrorism (CFT) and obligations of regulated entities under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, in addition to ensuring compliance with relevant provisions under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) for overseas remittances.”[3]

At present, while the talks of implementing comprehensive legislation governing cryptocurrencies have fizzled out, the Union Budget 2022 brought digital currencies under the tax net. As of 2022, the crypto asset market in India stands at an approximated evaluation of 45,000 Crores and 15 million investors[4].

However, it is pertinent to note that it is transactions, not investments, in the digital currency that pose an issue. In India, the Enforcement Directorate discovered over 4,000 crores of such illegal cryptocurrency transactions in 2021. As per the 2022 Crypto Crime Report by blockchain data firm Chainalysis[5], cybercriminals laundered $8.6 billion worth of cryptocurrency in 2021, $6.6 billion in 2020 and $10.9 billion in 2019. Furthermore, the study discovered that at the moment, darknet market sales or ransomware attack profits are virtually derived in cryptocurrency rather than fiat currency, thus significantly contributing to the data. 

Money laundering, terror financing, drug dealing, and other criminal activities are all done using cryptocurrency transactions. Although these transactions are recorded on a blockchain and are traceable, criminals use mixers and tumblers to make it difficult for a third party to track them.

 

The Laundering Mechanism

                           

                                    Eurospider Information Technology AG, “Mixers Tumbler Example,” fig.

For clarity, refer to the above image. Using the OHNE mixer, A sends 20 bitcoins to B, U sends 15 bitcoins to V, and X sends 5 bitcoins to Y. These are single-layer transactions that are simple to trace and identify.

The transaction takes place in a different way in the second image, where the MIT mixer is used. For the sake of brevity, let us consider a single layer of mixer being used. In real life, the number of mixers used is in the thousands. Here, A sends 20 bitcoins to M1, U sends 15 bitcoins to M2 and X sends 5 bitcoins to M3. In the next stage, B receives 20 bitcoins from M2, V receives 15 bitcoins from M1, and Y receives 5 bitcoins from M1. The difference we must notice is that B, V, and Y are receiving the same number of bitcoins as in picture one, but not from A, U and X, respectively. Because there is no information about A sending bitcoins to B, U sending bitcoins to V, or X sending bitcoins to Y, these transactions are not single-layered and are impossible to trace. Hence, making the transaction anonymous.

Criminals use a similar method to send money using cryptocurrencies. Consider the following scenario to gain a better understanding: A, B, C, and Z are cryptocurrency users who keep their coins in their digital wallets. They use the same mixing service to make transactions. A, B, and C are law-abiding citizens, while Z is a criminal involved in drug trafficking. A has to pay X a certain amount of money. X is paid, but the bitcoins he received were deposited by Z, a drug trafficker. When X received the payment, he had no idea that the bitcoins he had were dirty bitcoins and had been used for illegal activities. This is a straightforward explanation of how dirty bitcoins are making their way through the market, paving the way for money laundering. 

 

What can be done?

 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has released a report titled “Global Financial Stability Report”[6] which discusses the following details about how cryptocurrencies should be regulated, considering their increasing market capitalization and the growing exposure of banking and financial systems to crypto assets:

  1. Implementation of global standards applicable to crypto-assets should be the key focus area of national policies.
  2. Regulators should identify and control the associated risks of crypto assets, specifically in areas of systemic importance.
  3. Coordination among national regulators is key for effective enforcement and fewer instances of regulatory arbitrage.
  4. Data gaps and monitoring of the crypto ecosystem for better policy decisions should be prioritised by the regulators.

The report also discusses how stablecoins and decentralized finance pose a significant risk to the crypto market and the overall economy if they are not properly regulated and supervised by issuers.

  1. Regulations should be proportionate to the risk and in line with those of global stablecoins.
  2. Coordination is a must, to implement requisite recommendations in the areas of acute risks, enhanced disclosure, independent audit of reserves, and fit and proper rules for network administrators and issuers.

The report also discusses the importance of managing macro-financial risks through:

  1. Enactment of de-dollarization policies, including enhancing monetary policy credibility.
  2. Formulating a sound fiscal position with effective legal and regulatory measures and implementing central bank digital currencies
  3. Reconsidering Capital Flow Restrictions with respect to their effectiveness, supervision, and enforcement

However, according to the report, cryptoization would make finance more cost-effective, quick, and accessible.

There is also an intergovernmental organisation known as the Financial Action Task Force, which is constantly updating its recommendations to maintain legal, regulatory, and operational methods for combating money laundering, terrorism financing, proliferation, and other threats to the integrity of the international financial system. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recently released a compliance framework recommending that all anti-money laundering rules that traditional financial systems follow be applied to stable coins, cryptocurrency, and virtual asset service providers. Even though identifying the source of such funds and keeping track of who is the beneficiary of such funds is difficult, countries are still being encouraged to develop provisions that provide for due diligence, record keeping, and the reporting of suspicious transactions.[7]

 

The Legislative Way Forward for India

 

At present, there is no comprehensive legislative framework to govern fintech advancements encompassing blockchain and cryptocurrencies. At best, the present regulatory framework is a patchy, cross-networked arrangement that demands careful deliberations in alignment with the evolving technological innovations in the sector.

The Information Technology Act, 2000:

While the legislation successfully addresses issues like identity theft, hacking, and ransomware and provides a means to tackle the issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction, it is safe to conclude that the serpentine considerations of blockchain cannot be comprehended and addressed by the Act.

The Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 and the Prevention of Money Laundering Rules, 2005

The offences listed in Parts A, B and C of the PMLA Schedule attract the penalties enumerated under the Act.

Part A categorises offences under: Indian Penal Code, Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, Prevention of Corruption Act, Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, Copyright Act, Trademark Act, Wildlife Protection Act, and Information Technology Act.

Part B enlists offences under Part A with a valuation of Rs 1 crore or more.

Part C exclusively deals with trans-border crimes.

Recently, the Enforcement Directorate attached proceeds of crimes amounting to Rs 135 crores in 7 cases in which the usage of cryptocurrency for money laundering activities was flagged by the authorities.[8]

However, it is pertinent to note that the offences recognised under the respective parts of the schedule only comprise the offences under the current framework of legislation, which is at present not equipped to regulate any segment of cryptocurrency transactions and digital currency operations in the country. 

Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999

Even though the Act specifies procedures to conduct cross-border and foreign exchange transactions, it fails to identify the role of technology as an instrumental enabler of such transactions at present. However, it is interesting to note that it empowers the RBI to establish a regulatory framework to address the same.

The Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007

The PSS Act was enacted with the objective of establishing a regulatory framework for banks and ancillary financial institutions, designating RBI as the nodal authority. Section 4 of the Act states that no payment system shall operate in India without the prior due authorization of the RBI.

Apart from the above-mentioned legislation, regulators like SEBI, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), and Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) have also undertaken initiatives to implement specialised guidelines. While these regulations deal with the contemporary issues of payments, digital lending and global remittances, none of them has managed to find a concrete ground for effectively supervising and regulating cryptocurrency transactions backed by blockchain in the current volatile ecosystem.

At present, key industry regulators and stakeholders should collaborate to understand the novelty, process and extent of the present disruptive fintech trends. Furthermore, initiatives should be taken to ensure transparency of such transactions, establish secure authentication transactions for the exchanges and tighten the legislative noose on cyber security systems in the country. Additionally, establishing a centralised statutory body and local self-regulatory bodies across the sovereign, and implementing an extensive centralised framework is also imperative. The current scheme of criminal activities in virtual space transcends geographical boundaries, hence it is crucial for global policymakers to implement mechanisms to ensure coordination and collaboration by institutionalising inter-governmental bodies.

References: 

[1] ‘The Current Landscape Of The Fintech Industry – Fintech Crimes’ (Fintech Crimes, 2022) <https://fintechcrimes.com/the-landscape-of-fintech-in-year-2020/> accessed 9 February 2022.

[2] https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/FS_Notification.aspx?Id=11243&fn=2&Mode=0

[3] https://rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=12103

[4] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/union-budget-2022-no-crypto-bill-listed-this-budget-session/articleshow/89265038.cms

[5] https://go.chainalysis.com/rs/503-FAP-074/images/Crypto-Crime-Report-2022.pdf

[6] ‘Global Financial Stability Report’ (2021) <https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/GFSR/Issues/2021/10/12/global-financial-stability-report-october-2021> accessed 11 February 2022.

[7] ‘VIRTUAL ASSETS AND VIRTUAL ASSET SERVICE PROVIDERS’ (2021) <https://www.fatf-gafi.org/media/fatf/documents/recommendations/Updated-Guidance-VA-VASP.pdf> accessed 11 February 2022.

[8] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/ed-investigating-7-cases-of-cryptocurrency-usage-in-money-laundering-attaches-rs-135-crore/articleshow/90200012.cms

 

Image Credits: Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

At present, key industry regulators and stakeholders should collaborate to understand the novelty, process and extent of the present disruptive fintech trends. Further, initiatives should be undertaken to ensure transparency of such transactions, establish secure authentication transactions of the exchanges and tighten the legislative noose on cyber security systems in the country.

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Blockchain Arbitration: The Future of Dispute Resolution

The current buzzword- Blockchain has advanced from being a theoretical concept to reaching the sphere of technology where it is shaping today’s society and the legal profession. The field of legal technology has not only streamlined knowledge management requirements and operational aspects of a legal office, but also transformed the way lawyers practice law!

Smart contracts and blockchains have the potential to alter the way documentation and dispute resolution are approached. Hence the concepts need integration, implementation and recognition with arbitration for a more efficient, cost-effective and automated structure.

Smart Contracts, Blockchain and Arbitration

 

These self-executing, new generation contracts are geared towards the realization of predetermined conditions. With the help of smart contracts, Blockchain Arbitration can facilitate storing and verification of rules and automated execution (upon a particular event constituting a breach of the agreement) by invoking the arbitration clause incorporated in the smart contract.

In case of a dispute, the smart contract will notify the Arbitrator via a blockchain-based dispute resolution interface. A party can digitize the terms of an agreement, lock the funds into a smart contract, and condition the intelligent contract so that the task at hand is fulfilled and the funds will pass through. Upon completion of the process, the self-executable nature of the smart contract will automatically enforce the award and transfer the prescribed fee to the Arbitrator.

However, it is yet to be seen how smart contracts shall interact with data protection and privacy laws, intricacies of dispute resolution, and obligations and rights of the parties involved.

Blockchain Technology: An aid to Arbitration?

 

Arbitration aims to be a time-bound and specialized decision-making process. In this backdrop, Blockchain Arbitration theoretically promises to be an ideal structure for the trial process in the following ways:

  • Briefs, Transcriptions & Document Management: The tool in the blockchain system can quickly and efficiently provide synopsis and briefs of the record which would be beneficial not only to the Tribunal but to the parties.
  • Elimination of intermediaries and cost-effectiveness: There shall be no mechanism requiring approval and control at every stage, and the intermediary institutions are not included in the process. For instance, Banks, involved as intermediary institutions in legal and financial transactions, incur costs at every stage of the transaction and are time-intensive in nature.
  • Automation: A blockchain-based dispute resolution platform would exclude oral hearings and the Arbitrator’s decision and automate other aspects of filing of pleadings, filing of documentary evidence, correspondence with the Arbitral Tribunal.
  • Ease in making the Arbitral Award:  Blockchain tools can assist the Tribunals in preparing awards. The tools ensure that all necessary ingredients to make the arbitral award reasoned and enforceable have been taken care of.  The blockchain will continue to prepare the award from the beginning as the arbitration progresses.
  • Confidentiality / Security of Data: Blockchain is the safest way of storing information. Each block will be authenticated by the Arbitral Tribunal and the party to the proceedings. There is no provision for changing, altering or deleting the data unilaterally. It can only be done when it is authenticated by the Arbitral Tribunal and the party to the proceedings. Since third parties are entirely absent from the proceedings, the possibility of breach of data and information is negligible. Disputes arising out of smart contracts can be made confidential which will limit the exposure of the nature of dispute between the parties. Blockchain has a decentralized structure and the security of the system is protected by cryptography.
  • Removal of human error: The reliability and validity of a transaction depend upon the accuracy of the algorithm underlying the transaction. Since, each transaction is based on algorithms, which are mathematical models, it is free from human influence and intervention and, consequently, human error. 

Security and privacy of data are primary concerns in the conventional Arbitral process. In fact, as a specific case representing the flaws of the present model of international arbitration, in July 2015, the website of the Permanent Court of Arbitration was hacked during an essential hearing of maritime border arbitration between China and the Philippines, in the international arbitration of the “Republic of Philippines v. People’s Republic of China.”[1]  

As far as the credibility of blockchain technology in resolving such issues is concerned, the World Economic Forum, in its 2015 survey recognized that by 2025-27, about 10% of the global GDP would be stored in blockchains, owing to its efficient attributes of data security management. By 2025, even taxes are strongly probable to be collected by employing blockchain technology. Moreover,  in its research published in 2018, World Trade Organisation described at length the opportunities that lie ahead in the future, owing to the efficacy associated with the safeguard mechanisms of blockchains. 

Legal Recognition of Blockchain Arbitration and procedure to be adopted

The UNCITRAL Electronic Model Law on Electronic Commerce (1996 Convention) and the ‘UNCITRAL Convention on Electronic Communications in International Contracts (2007 Convention)’ are the primary legal instruments facilitating blockchain contracts.[3]

Articles 6 and 18 of the 2007 Convention assert the validity of on-chain arbitration by allowing for electronic data records and electronic transactions in the arbitration process, thereby providing legal recognition to on-chain arbitrations.

  1. Appointment of an Arbitrator

 Once the notice of arbitration has been sent, the appointment of an arbitrator can be done through blockchain. Thus, the exchange of documents, e-mails, and messages, etc. are all recorded automatically and replicated at all stakeholder’s computers without the involvement of any third party. The case management conference can be done online using a video conferencing facility of blockchain which is recorded and filed in the computers of all stakeholders in original and thereby removing manipulation.

  1. Pleadings

The pleadings including a statement of claim, statement of defense, counterclaims, and reply to counterclaims and further submissions can be submitted online and are automatically served to the parties & the Tribunal along with automated acknowledgment. This ensures timely submissions and helps in maintaining uniformity in the pleadings thus circulated. Any delay will also be penalized in terms of the penalty prescribed by the Tribunal or as agreed by the parties. The fear of ex-parte communication will also be mitigated when the procedural orders and communication by the Tribunal will be auto-delivered to both parties. 

  1. Interim Measures

Interim measures that are sought from courts can be executed on the blockchain if the judicial system of a particular jurisdiction allows for a seamless digital interface with the parties’ computers. In the case of an automated interface with the judicial system, the execution of court orders can also happen immediately provided the jurisdiction’s administrative machinery is using blockchain. 

  1. Recording of Evidence & Preparation of Award

 The efficiency of blockchain can be seen in evidence-taking and award preparation. Witness conferencing, cross-examination, and taking of oral evidence can be easily done using video conferencing suites, or even if hearings are done physically, they can still be transferred on blockchain and stacked for procedural integrity. Statements of expert witnesses, oral submission by experts, and expert communications can be recorded on the blockchain. 

  1. Security of Data

Blockchain is a secure way of storing information because each block is replicated and authenticated by all stakeholders. The provision to alter or delete any data does not exist until authenticated by all stakeholders. In the absence of intervention of a third party, there is no network administrator or supervisor making the possibility of data breach negligible. 

Globally, blockchain technology is being readily resorted to as an effective means of data storage, management, distribution, and transfer. Blockchain technology has immense potential to enhance the efficacy of Arbitral proceedings, especially owing to its mechanism of encryption, which helps secure data.

Contemporary issues in Blockchain Arbitration

The functioning of blockchain arbitration highlights various concerns. Firstly, in an on-chain arbitration, there would be no requirement for oral hearings which are integral to the current justice system and stand at a juxtaposition with the principles of natural justice.

Secondly, an essential principle of arbitration is the underlying idea of confidentiality. Despite the strong protection afforded by blockchain, data privacy can pose a significant concern when an independent third party gets involved as an oracle in dispute resolution. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provisions are not currently empowered enough to regulate the intricacies in the decentralized functioning of blockchain, which makes it difficult to impose liability on data controllers. Furthermore, the traceable feature of blockchain is again in conflict with the GDPR’s requirement of the “right to be forgotten“.

Thirdly, The New York Convention on the Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards of 1958 (hereinafter referred to as “the New York Convention”) is the most prominent code on enforcing international arbitral awards with 166 contracting states to the Convention. According to Article II of the New York Convention, an arbitration agreement must be in “writing” and requires the parties’ signature. However, in a virtually operative blockchain arbitration, there is no scope for written agreements or signatures.[4]

Challenges in the enforceability of the Blockchain arbitration award in India

 

Lack of enforceability of the agreement itself under the New York Convention

One problem identified with the enforceability of blockchain arbitration awards is the lack of enforceability of the agreement itself under the New York Convention which requires such agreements to be in writing or through an exchange of telegrams/telefaxes.

Section 7 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 requires that a valid arbitration agreement should be in “writing”. However, unlike Article II of the New York Convention, Section 7 of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 clarifies that an agreement would be considered as having been made in writing if it has been communicated through “electronic means”. The allowance for “electronic means” was introduced through the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015, yet remains undefined.

Theoretically, it can be asserted that an award generated in a blockchain arbitration may fall within the ambit of the definition of an ‘electronic record’ under the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Difficulty in determining Awarding Country in a Blockchain Arbitration

India although is a signatory to the New York Convention, only foreign awards made in only certain Contracting States of the Convention (gazetted by the Central Government) can be enforced in view of India’s reciprocity reservation. India has gazetted less than 1/3rdof all of the Contracting States to the New York Convention.[5] 

In the working of a blockchain arbitration, Arbitrators are appointed by a blockchain-based dispute resolution platform. The award is generated on a blockchain and circulated to the parties before the Arbitrator. The parties may be in different countries and the origin/awarding country may be difficult to trace out. In the absence of details of an awarding country, the enforceability of such an award in India becomes a daunting task.

 

Enforcement of Arbitral Award

As per the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, an application for enforcement of an arbitral award shall be accompanied by an original arbitral award. In a blockchain arbitration, the award is circulated as an electronic record in the blockchain to the parties directly. The concept of a hard copy/original award is alien in blockchain arbitration.

 

Conclusion and Suggestion

A conspectus of the aforesaid facets of the blockchain system shows that the same needs multi-fold reforms before being set to use by the legal fraternity. Even though the blockchain assures, to a great extent, protection of data, but it cannot be forgotten that the hackers also keep updating their own skills and no technology is flawless. The blockchain system has to be made dynamic enough so as to keep abreast with the challenges of new advents in unethical hacking.

Secondly, it is also required that a proper training module is formulated for lawyers of the participating countries which shall ensure unimpeded use of the technology.

Lastly, the author strongly recommends that the use of blockchain should be limited only to procedural aspects in such cases where the dispute involves issues of interpretation of the clauses and or statutes including common law. This may be achieved by adopting a hybrid model of dispute resolution with embedded human intervention modules.

References: 

[1]Gargi Sahasrabudhe, Blockchain technology and arbitration, VIA Mediation & Arbitration Centre, (Nov. 3, 2021, 5:00pm), https://viamediationcentre.org/readnews/ODE1/Blockchain-technology-and-Arbitration

[2]Athul aravind, Blockchain arbitration: the future?, Law and Dispute resolution blog, (Nov. 3, 2021, 5:00pm), https://www.mappingadr.in/post/blockchain-arbitration-the-future

[3] Dena Givari, How does arbitration intersect with the blockchain technology that underlies cryptocurrencies, Kluwer Arbitration Blog, Wolters Kluwer, (Nov. 6, 2021, 8:00pm), http://arbitrationblog.kluwerarbitration.com/2018/05/05/scheduled-blockchain-arbitration-april-17-2018/

[4] Idil Gncosmanoglu, Blockchain-smart contract and arbitration, Mondaq, (Nov. 5, 2021, 5:00pm), https://www.mondaq.com/turkey/fin-tech/967452/blockchain-smart-contracts-and-arbitration.

[5] Ritika Bansal, Enforceability of awards from blockchain arbitrations in India, Kluwer arbitration Blog, http://arbitrationblog.kluwerarbitration.com/2019/08/21/enforceability-of-awards-from-blockchain-arbitrations-in-india/, (2019)

 

 

Image Credits: 

Photo by Launchpresso on Unsplash

The use of blockchain should be limited only to procedural aspects in such cases where the dispute involves issues of interpretation of the clauses and or statutes including common law. This may be achieved by adopting a hybrid model of dispute resolution with embedded human intervention modules.

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Bad Bank in India: A Concept Note

We often hear that various Government’s both at the central and state level are trying to achieve Ease of Doing Business (“EoDB”) and Ease of Living (“EoLiving”). However, in terms of land, both EoDB and EoLiving is still a distant dream. It must be noted that EoDB, with respect to land, has been adversely affected due to the existence of corrupt practices in land transactionsthe existence of multiple litigations and lack of credibility of land records. Similarly, in order to achieve EoLiving, the concerns of the farmers and small landholders with respect to litigations, encroachments, etc., must be efficiently addressed. It is imperative that the aforementioned concerns are sufficiently addressed by the Government (both at the Centre and the States) through its initiatives which increases the confidence of the businessmen, investors, and people of India, in general, on the credibility of land titles.  

In it undeniable that in achieving EoDB and EoLiving, ‘Dispute Free Titles’ backed by the Government almost amounting to ‘Guaranteed Land Title’ would play an integral part. This in-turn envisages  ‘Computerised Land Records’, ‘Computerised Registration Database’ detailed with ‘Digital Cadastral Maps’ and ‘Aadhar Authentication Service’ along with land transactions hashed through new age technology like ‘Blockchain” (Collectively referred to as ‘Computerized / Blockchained Land System’) thereby making such transactions and related information immutable and highly trustworthy. However, while the technology exists, the enabling legal structure is a distant reality, as the Indian land laws largely continue to be a legacy from the British era and have their own unique features. The Indian Land laws are complex as they seek to address not only the correctness and completeness of title but also focus on the issues related to possession and revenue collection from land. This article seeks to give a very high level of legal insight into how India can move towards Guaranteed Land Title with an enabling legal framework. 

Maintenance of authentic land records is key to the effective management of land. Land records in India, in general, is poorly maintained, which leads to ambiguity with respect to the ownership of land and results in an increasing number of litigations. This has also adversely affected the confidence of the investors (both domestic and international) with respect to investing in land and related products, which is quite a setback for our economy because land is a non-depreciating asset which more often than not assures returns on investment. 

In the absence of existence of credible land records, implementation of technology will be of little meaning as wrong information fed into the system will only create more issues and confusion among the various stakeholders, including but not limited to landowners, land purchasers, legal heirs of deceased landowners, etc. In fact, in the light of the above, in order to achieve ‘Dispute Free Titles,’ it must be ensured that the land records are perfect, up-to-date, final, comprehensive and binding and are completely foolproof with respect to the title of landowners on the concerned land. In the absence of such an exercise, any implementation of technology will end up being mere digitization of land records and ‘Dispute Free Titles’ will remain a distant dream.  

In fact, in the absence of a comprehensive legal understanding of land transactions among the people as to what constitutes a valid title, mere digitalization of land records may further complicate matters. For instance, let us take the example of the over-reliance on registered title documents for validating the title of the landowner. It has been reiterated in many judgements that, mere registration does not confer title to the owner [Suraj Lamp & Industries Pvt. Ltd. Vs. State of Haryana and Anr. (2012) 1 SCC 656], and in order to ensure clear title on land, the relevant revenue records pertaining to the land such as Khata/Patta/Pahani/RoR, etc. need to duly reflect the name of the owner of the land, as well. Further, another contributing factor is that the registrar, at the time of registration of the title document, is not mandated to confirm the title of the property, therefore, in such a case, the registered document may itself be incorrect in terms of the vendor’s ability to pass on valid legal title due to its own defective title. This gives rise to multiple litigations thus making land a considerably risky asset without Guaranteed Land Title.  

Therefore, in the light of the above, in order for the Government to achieve ‘Guaranteed Land Title’ the Government must undertake targeted interventions in existing land and revenue laws (“Targeted Interventions”) which will ensure that the Computerised / Blockchained Land Records in the ‘Computerized / Blockchained Land System’ are final, binding and ensures Guaranteed Land Titles. 

 

Targeted Interventions 

On a recent visit to Switzerland on a study tour organized by Swissnex enabled by Mr. Sebastien Hug, where we studied the strides made by Switzerland in respect of blockchain technology both from an entrepreneurial and legal standpoint, a very interesting perspective came to the fore. The Swiss Government adopted a bottom-up approach to listen to the legal needs of the entrepreneurial eco-system and then instead of re-inventing the wheel (which possibly takes eons or never happens due to various political issues) seeks to undertake focused changes in existing laws i.e. “Targeted Interventions” which involves amending the existing laws and procedures, in the current scenarios concerning land in a State in order to achieve Guaranteed Land Title. Targeted Interventions must be made in such laws, rules, regulations, policies, and procedures of a State which governs the transfer of title of land from one person to another, both in terms of registration of title documents governing the transfer of title and mutation of the name of the new owner in the concerned land records.  

For instance, in the case of private land, the title can be transferred from one person to the other through sale, inheritance, partition, settlement, gift (oral / written), mortgage, etc., however, it is to be noted that while most transfers are compulsorily registrable, ownership through certain mechanisms like inheritance is not registered under the Registration Act, 1908. It is also observed that many owners of the land do not, in fact, mutate their names in the land records or carry out such steps to register encumbrances on the land records, however that does not extinguish their rights in the lands and they continue to have a legal right,  without visibility to interested third parties. Therefore, Targeted Interventions must be carried out in the Registration Act, 1908 to ensure that all title documents not mandatorily registrable are now mandatorily registered. Further, such registration of the title documents must be integrated with the ‘Computerized / Blockchained systems’ in such a manner that, immediately upon registration of the title document, other departments holding the same record are intimated about the transfer of title of the concerned land from the transferor to the transferee and the name and details of the transferee get automatically updated in the actual land records of the concerned land.  

Further, Targeted Interventions must be made in the process of registration of title documents, including authentication of the identity of the transferor and the transferee through Aadhar verification. This will ensure that the correct name and identity of the owner of the land is reflected in the land records of the ‘Computerized / Blockchained database’. Further, Targeted Interventions must be made in the process of recording ownership or transfer of ownership of land to ensure that the identification process is robust in terms of recording the name and identity of the persons involved and such that no other person other than the owner of the land can transfer the land in favour of another person. Further, if any person tries to register a title document concerning a land of which he is not the owner as per the revenue records, then the registration of such title document should be rejected by the ‘Computerized / Blockchained Land System ’ at that very instant. 

Another manner in which persons acquire the title of land is through litigations arising out of possession of land/property, such as the right of adverse possession, etc., by virtue of which the title of the land may be transferred in the name of the person claiming adverse possession if such a person manages to secure a favorable verdict in the concerning litigation. Therefore, Targeted Interventions must be undertaken to record such rights arising out of possession of a land/property, from time to time, and all information collated pertaining to such rights must be integrated with the ‘Computerized / Blockchained Land System’. Information relating to ongoing as well as concluded litigations must be recorded and integrated in a manner that will ensure that the ‘Computerized / BLockchained Land System’ is, at all times, updated of the existence of litigation on any piece of land, and such information will show up at the time of registration of title documents or any verification carried out on the title of the land. Further, if a court of competent jurisdiction, in any matter, grants the ownership of land in favour of any person other than the original owner, as a part of its decision, then the ‘Computerized / Blockchained Land System’ must be updated to include the name of the new owner. Additionally, the introduction of guaranteed and clean government-backed land title through a comprehensive Computerized / Blockchained Land System’, will address issues like litigation, encroachment, etc., both on private and public lands.  

Also, there must be amendments made in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, in order to give sanctity to the information processed, maintained and made available in the ‘Computerized / Blockchained Land System’ in a court of law, such that the information in the ‘Computerized / Blockchianed Land System’ can be used as evidence in a court of law and is perceived as final and binding by the public at large. This will discourage the public from filing frivolous litigations and /or appeals and will reduce the overall time taken for the disposal of litigations by the courts.  

The aforementioned instances of Targeted Interventions are only a part and not the complete process of ensuring Guaranteed Land Title. In order to achieve Guaranteed Land Title, ‘Computerized / Blockchained Land System’ must further involve Targeted Interventions in other processes as well, such as mortgages, etc. 

 

Conclusion

An overhaul of the existing apparatus for the maintenance of land records in a comprehensive manner, by ensuring Guaranteed Land Title, shall instill confidence among the people with respect to the certainty of ownership of land. This will result in an increase in the overall investment in the real estate sector in India and emergence of new products based on land title, e.g. Title Insurance, etc., which will increase the ability of the small income groups to benefit heavily from monetizing the asset of land through better and regulated products in the insurance market. Hence, this will be doing away with middlemen and/or ineffective loan schemes, etc.  

Image Credits: Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

An overhaul of the existing apparatus for the maintenance of land records in a comprehensive manner, by ensuring Guaranteed Land Title, shall instill confidence among the people with respect to the certainty of ownership of land. This will result in an increase in the overall investment in the real estate sector in India and the emergence of new products based on land title

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