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Aug 16, 2018

Inside the Black Blocks

August 16, 2018

A policymaker’s introduction to blockchain, distributed ledger technology and the “Internet of Value”

When Bitcoin was in the news earlier this year, little attention was paid to the blockchain technology that underpins it. This is unfortunate as blockchain’s emergence has important implications far beyond cryptocurrency. Our new report cuts through the hype to take an in-depth look at this technology, and analyze its promises and perils for Canadian governments.

Why should policymakers care about blockchain and other “distributed ledger” technologies? Drawing on a number of cutting edge pilot programs and demonstration projects worldwide, we highlight how blockchain technology could be leveraged by the broader public sector to, for example, simplify and expedite government permitting processes or transform electronic health records.

At the same time, and as shown by cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, blockchain technology could disrupt a number of sectors long considered government monopolies, such as currency issuance, and reduce the effectiveness of some traditional policy and regulatory approaches.

A key challenge for policymakers seeking to learn about blockchain is the often overly superficial or technical nature of the information available about it. In this report, we chart a middle course by providing an accessible, but still rigorous, explainer of the technology and the way it works. We then present a number of uses this technology may have in the broader public sector and analyze key implications and challenges it poses for public policy. Finally, we provide five recommendations that should help governments capture the technology’s potential benefits while avoiding its pitfalls.

View PDF View report Q&A



Michael Crawford Urban
with Danielle Pineda

Release Date

August 16, 2018



Mowat Research

No. 168


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