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Blockchain principles launched to preserve and protect user rights

With increasing use cases for blockchain as the technology that underpins a variety of treasury systems, including payments and the trade supply chain, questions around the ownership and privacy of data make for interesting reading. To help companies and individuals build trust and preserve the fundamental values of blockchain technology, the World Economic Forum’s Global Blockchain Council has developed the 'Presidio Principles: Foundational Values for a Decentralized Future'. Co-designed at the World Economic Forum’s offices in the Presidio of San Francisco, sixteen principles aim to protect users and preserve the values of the technology so that all can benefit.

“The blockchain ecosystem needed a baseline for designing applications that preserve the rights of users,” said Sheila Warren, head of Blockchain and Data Policy at the World Economic Forum. “During our council meeting, we realised we could help curb many of the mistakes and missteps seen so far if we were able to provide developers, governments and executives with a ‘Bill of Rights’ style document.”

Rights are grouped into four broad pillars: Transparency & Accessibility - the right to information about the system; Privacy & Security - the right to data protection; Agency & Interoperability - the right for individuals to own and manage their data; and Accountability & Governance - the right for system users to understand available recourse.

The Presidio Principles

In the Presidio Principles, the World Economic Forum puts forward the case that applications built on top of blockchain-based systems should preserve the following participant rights:

A participant should have access to information that would enable them to:

  • Understand how a service is operated, including potential risks of the service, availability of source code, and the rules and standards upon which it is based.
  • Understand the potential risks and benefits of a service’s use of blockchain technology.
  • Understand system performance expectations and where the responsibility for service delivery lies.
  • Understand the rights and obligations of different participants in the system.

In addition, a participant should be able to:

  • Create, manage, and independently store cryptographic keys.
  • Manage consent of data stored in third-party systems.
  • Port data between interoperable systems or parts of a system.
  • Revoke consent for future data collection.
  • Have access to information sufficient to facilitate system interoperability.
  • Assess if their data is at risk through appropriate disclosure procedures, which may include, but are not limited to, an examination of audit results, certifications, or source code.
  • Have their data protected in accordance with internationally recognised technical security standards.
  • Limit data collection to that which is necessary and data use to the purpose for which it was provided.
  • Verify - through third-party or self-created tools - that operations have been completed and confirmed in accordance with the system’s rules.
  • Access information needed to: (a) understand the system’s governance and rules and (b) pursue effective recourse mechanisms.
  • Opt-out of using applications that don’t treat data in accordance with internationally recognised governance and data protection standards.
  • Rectify demonstrably false, inaccurate, or incomplete data when necessary.

The Principles include a menu of options for how organisations or individuals can take action. A list of signatories is available to view and self-regulate/hold others accountable.

The genesis for this idea came during the first meeting of the Forum’s Global Blockchain Council in 2019. The content was developed and workshopped in sessions around the world, including at the Annual Meeting in Davos 2020 with a variety of members of the blockchain community, government officials, civil society members and business leaders. A public comment period on the developer platform GitHub ran between 10 April and 5 May this year.

“Our Global Blockchain Council membership reflects varying ideological perspectives on what blockchain technology is appropriate for and where it is going, ranging from bitcoin maximalists to enterprise service providers,” Warren said. “This highly opinionated group came together and agreed that the blockchain community needed the foundational principles we are presenting today. Agreement from across Council members, despite their divergent perspectives, indicates the critical need for a values-based document like this in order to ensure that the technology remains true to its roots as the application layer starts to scale.”

A community effort

The Forum is partnering with ecosystem players from Hyperledger and Ethereum, as well as the consulting and investor communities to issue specific "Guidance Documents" around how the principles can be implemented on a more tactical level. The World Economic Forum says these will further help developers, governments, executives, corporate boards, international organisations and others implement the principles and take action now.

Additionally, Global Blockchain Council members will be partnering with individual organisations, associations and membership-based entities and investors for virtual sessions on how companies can meaningfully implement the Principles in their operations.

"As open sourced and decentralised systems keep moving forward, we have seen how challenging it can be to build guidelines that apply to different and evolving blockchain projects, and that help teams work to solve problems together,” said Aya Miyaguchi, executive director at the Ethereum Foundation. “Fortunately and thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, I believe that the Principles will provide a high-level framework that can really help these critical conversations continue throughout the lifespan of the technology.”

“As an open source community, we are focused on developers,” said Brian Behlendorf, executive director, Hyperledger, Linux Foundation. “How they choose to build their solutions affects not only the users of today, but the trajectory of the technology. We are exploring ways for our community of developers to not just read and sign onto the principles – but look for ways to meaningfully integrate them into their processes.”

"The Presidio Principles will become a global benchmark for good governance and accountability for the next generation of decentralized technology platforms,” said Tomicah Tillemann, founder and director, Digital Impact and Governance Initiative at think tank New America. “At a moment when demand for accessible digital services is surging, the Principles will help the private sector and government create solutions that offer people more control of their data, privacy, and digital rights."

“Ongoing dialogue between all stakeholders is critical to help businesses and governments alike navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by blockchain innovation,” said Greg Medcraft, director, Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “The Presidio Principles are an important contribution to this essential dialogue”.

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