The Blockchain is breakthrough that the world was looking forward to after the advent of the Internet. It’s a path-breaking and irrefutable original and clever invention of none other but the inventor of the Bitcoins. Undeniable, Blockchains was developed by Satoshi Nakamoto to ensure the accounting of the Bitcoins and was thus a subsystem of the Bitcoin environment. Blockchains was supposed to be the backbone of the accounting system and audit trail of the Bitcoins and its support system. It has now grown as greater and more acceptable as compared to the Bitcoins which is only a part of the Cryptocurrency system.
Bitcoins are a decentralized currency which is not controlled by the Government and Banks. The idea of Bitcoins was to have a currency that can be used for online transactions by users around the world without the intervention and control of the Government and the agencies aiding the Government. The inventor wanted to keep the accounting and audit of the same utterly safe from hackers and out of the reach of the agencies. He wished that the transactions can be carried out without the intervention and help of the Government and the knowledge of the Government and its agencies about the identities of the persons in the transaction.
This was a big challenge of how to ensure the safety of operation and also ensure the authenticity of the same without any central agency monitoring and controlling the same. Satoshi came up with the idea of a digital ledger which was distributed on the net but could not be copied. The persons who helped confirm transactions and made an entry in this ledger were rewarded with Bitcoins because he knew that there were people around who always wanted to earn money whenever they were online.
“The Blockchain is a trustworthy digital account book of all transactions that can be recorded and entered in any books, and thus it requires a program that can record which are not only in nature of financial transactions but any transaction of any value of worth recording. Example a record of birth and deaths. The Blockchain started with a record of transaction of Bitcoins over the internet and thus became a database of such transactions. This database was distributed over the internet, and thus there is no central server saving the same. The database can be ccessed by anyone, but it requires a super algorithmic capacity to make a fresh entry or make changes.
BLOCKCHAINS-The advantages are :
- 1. Since it is not on a Central Server, there is no question of hacking of the same and no server problem.
- 2. It is spread over the internet and no dedicated employees who work during office hours. It has people who are gold diggers who work at any given time 24 x7 around the world in a bid to earn rewards for their efforts to keep this ledger going.
- 3. It is regularly updated, and hackers thus are not able to disrupt it because at any given point of time some miner is online to earn his money and thus it has a 24 x7 surveillance system on without paying a single buck for the same.
- 4. It is very robust as the data about a transaction and all other data about the said Bitcoin is chained to the series of operations connected to it. Each transaction is stored in a block which is an encrypted hash function of the transaction. This block is chained with other blocks of identical information across the network, and this ensures that it cannot be controlled by a single entity.
- 5. Blockchains have been in business with the Bitcoins and other Cryptocurrencies since 2008, and no one has been able to hack into the systems so far. This shows the great idea and the strength of the system. Not a single minute of these ten years has seen any system failure, system downtime or system weakness.
- 6. It has a high degree of accountability and chances of human error, machine error, missed or wrong entries can never make it to the final entry. Entries are possible only with the consent of both the parties to it and auto entries cannot take place example an auto debit by the bank can never happen here. The most important aspect is the recording of entry in the main register(the wallet), and it’s connected distributed ledger which is confirmed and done only by a secure validation mechanism.
- 7. The Blockchain is a living system which is alive 24 x 7 x 365 days and keeps on checking itself every ten minutes. The Blockchain system is like a self checking ecosystem which audits itself from time to time. The network checks every transaction that takes place in the ten-minute interval. Each group of this transaction is called as a block.
- 8. The entire ledger is in public domain and thus is a transparent ledger of transactions taking place over the Blockchain ecosystem. To change or amend a data or to corrupt the systems would mean changing the entire block from the start to the last block. This has to be done in less than 10 minutes on the blocks which are hashed to a great and difficult algorithm. It is required to be done under the prying eyes of miners who are working on this system 24 x 7- an impossible task and which has not been done so far in last ten years. As the time passes, the number of block increases in size and difficulty of the algorithm. This makes the task of hacking or amending the data next to impossible.
- 9. It is thus doing away with the agencies with whom we entrust the data namely the Government and the Central banks. The data has been hacked in the past and data stolen or amended. The same cannot be done on the blockchain.
- Governments and Banks are finding Blockchains irresistible to store their data.
- 10. Private agencies like Google, Facebook, etc. are secretly and openly seeking permissions to gather data of individuals and their preferences and taste to help their business grow. People around the world are skeptical of this move by the apps to collect our data. Blockchains are an answer to these companies.
The Blockchains consist of its lifeline known as nodes. Blockchains can be called as a network of computing nodes. Nodes validate the transaction between two parties and also relay the same to them. Once the transaction is authorized, it is added to the chain of transactions on the Blockchain. Different nodes working in tandem create a very powerful watchdog and integrated system for the entire Blockchain ecosystem. Every node, however small or big is an independent administrator of the Blockchain system. The node is a voluntary entity that has entered into the ecosystem to earn Bitcoins in the form of rewards for his ability to decode the difficult algorithm leading to confirmation of the transaction and its recording in the form of a block.
Nodes are involved in the mining of Bitcoins- a process which is a reward fo confirming the transaction. The process of mining is a race for earning Bitcoins between various codes which employ superfast and supercomputers to crack the difficult algorithm with which the transaction is hashed. The node which can break it first is entitled to reward. Thus many nodes try to beat each other in a bid to earn rewards. The Blockchain is, therefore, a living ecosystem which never sleeps. Mining of Bitcoins is one of the many functions where the Blockchains can be applied.
Besides the Bitcoins, other such Cryptocurrencies which are counting around 700 are using the Blockchain infrastructure to ensure the stability and sanctity of its transaction. Besides this, a lot of other applications around the world are now adopting Blockchains to in the development of their application or running of their systems.
The Blockchain is independent of any control and thus decentralized. Any transaction that takes place in its ecosystem is not monitored or under the control of any agency or authority. It is present on the internet. Many organizations even though under an agency have started to see the importance and applications of the Blockchains. Stock exchanges, for example, have started recording the transactions on Blockchains, and this has ensured that there is complete control and check over the transactions that have taken place over a particular exchange. Land records are being recorded on the Blockchains, and thus every registry which is owned by the Government are being slowly shifted to the Blockchains. We see decentralization on the centralized agencies slowly taking over and keeping the records transparent and open to the public. It appears that decentralization is already a reality over the overtly centralized government around the nations. It is seen that records over the Bitcoin protocol Blockchains are managed by a network of computers spread worldwide which assist in recording of its transactions. Bitcoins are thus managed by the network of nodes and not by any agency. This is the underlying principle of decentralization which means network operated on peer to peer basis. The mass collaboration of these nodes around the world makes it a true decentralization system. The system is managed by people and not by organizations and governments. Melanie Swan, author of Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy (2015) has concluded that decentralized Blockchain networks will usher in the next huge technological wave. The way the world is going, it appears that we are already on the way to the first wave of this technology.
At present this wave is seen in the form of adoption in the field of finance and finance touches the life of every individual. Thus in a way we are already using this technology. We see a huge demand for Blockchain developers around the world. The second big users of Blockchains are the Startups. Startups work on small margin in their initial period of life and Blockchains can cut out the middlemen for the startups. Thus both these field are hugely adopting Blockchains. For startups, this has helped because personal computing has directly made them accessible to the clients by an introduction of Graphic User Interface. GUI or Graphic User Interface has been adopted by individuals as it has done away with the text-based interface. The GUI is being used in the form of Wallet application which has helped people to buy good online using apps and their wallet to pay the money. Wallets have become the identity of the user.
With the advent of Blockchains, the personal data belonging to an individual will be decentralized, and the data will belong to the individual. He will give the access to the data to any person or entity and to the extent required and also specify the time limit for the access. Being a Central server where the data is securely stored on a network, the Blockchain ecosystems does away with the risk of data being stored centrally and under control of any agency. Since the data is not stored centrally the risk of data being hacked is done away.
Currently, our data are stored by using username and password protection and access system. The Blockchain uses 256-bit encryption which is more secure. The encryption is based on public and private key system. A public key is usually a long and randomly generated string of numbers and is the address of the user on the Blockchain system. The user can receive and store information and Bitcoins on this public key infrastructure which is also called the wallet. A private key is a password for accessing the public key infrastructure. Thus the wallets public key infrastructure can only be accessed or used using the private key. Blockchains thus work on two key features instead of one key feature for access and are more secure. It may, however, be noted that once the private key is compromised, there is no way to protect the data or Bitcoins on the public key wallet. The public-private key infrastructure gives access to the user over the Blockchain to share and access the data encrypted therein. It is open for all to whom the same is shared. The dual level of protection is thus available on the internet to the users. The access comes with many riders which can be given to the user, i.e., limited or time-bound access can be given to the user as per the requirement. This is normally not available on other networks of the internet. Most of the people are already using this system of the transaction of Bitcoins over the Blockchain protocol.
Most of the merchant banker including Goldman Sachs opines that Blockchains hold great future in the banking system of clearing and settlements and will also accord a great saving in transaction cost. It is estimated that approx. 6 billion dollars will be saved on the transaction charges by the banking industry.
The industry is watching the Blockchain space with bated breath as the space of 2017 to 2020 is considered important year for the Blockchain industry. Between these three years, most of the startups around the world will begin to generate revenue or may vanish due to competition. The startups have adopted Blockchains to save cost and present their customer with a safe transaction which they will get from the startups in the form of goods or services. These three years will present more implementation of different products based on utilizing Blockchain technology. The customer will not know about the application of this technology by the startups as the network used by the Startups remains invisible. A large number of startups have started adopting Blockchains in the current years, and the result of its application will soon be apparent in coming years.
APPLICATIONS OF BLOCKCHAINS
The Blockchain technology has given a push to the startups to create values using authentication of digital information. The Aadhar card of the Unique Identification Authority of India is one such example where limited authentication can be allowed by use of Blockchain. Imagine the amount of data that can be restricted to the person to whom data is provided. Besides the business of digital information, the business of smart contracts using Blockchains is catching up fast in the business world. Smart contracts are being signed digitally without the meeting of two parties to it. Blockchains helps in encoding of agreements and contracts in such a way that they will automatically get executed when specified conditions in the contracts are met. Smart contracts are dealt over the Ethereum which is also an open source Blockchain project which has been developed specially to meet the possibility of contracts specific performance. It is a path-breaking technology which can change the way the world executes the contracts. To give an example, smart contracts can be so programmed to perform a specific task like buying a share or derivate when the same meets the set criteria for investment or purchase and vice versa. It can also be programmed to release the payment on the acquisition of shares or derivatives on the execution of purchase using such a contract. Thus automated purchase/sales and payments can be programmed over the Ethereum enabled Blockchain.
The business world has shown that sharing is caring in the business world. Aggregators have succeeded in their business in this Century. Aggregators have used the manpower and assets of others on their networks and earned huge profits in the current century. The growth of Uber and Ola cabs is an example of the growth of business enterprises using sharing of assets and manpower for common interest.
The advent of Blockchains will sound a death knell for the aggregators business. The aggregators act a middleman between the buyer of goods and services and the seller and in turn earn his profit. The situation is going to change with the introduction of Blockchains. The peer to peer transactions and payments will change the way we avail of services and do away with the aggregators. Blockchains will benefit the actual service provider and the user and save on the charges being collected by the aggregators.
PROBLEMS IN IMPLEMENTING BLOCKCHAINS
Some the problems that are evident are as under: Banks and financial institutions are spending a considerable amount of money on employing a lot of people to go through the documents and financial transactions
to check if any breach of Anti Money laundering laws has taken place. These highly paid officers are following the rules without application of mind and are found to be doing their work diligently but without a scientific bend of mind. The Notre Dame Law journal has found during research that the banks and financial institutions have not carried on any test or collected data to understand if they have correctly implemented the rules of Anti Money laundering. The current system of compliance framework initiated by the authorities places more importance to process as against the importance of a proper result or performance. This may be due to the threat of punishment which may arise due to an unintended fault or failure to bring about proper results. Bankers fear that once they start certifying the correctness of the transaction, they may land in trouble in case of any future issues. The policy has thus been laid to lay emphasis more on procedure and not implementation. The insistence of procedural clearance and safety has led to a lot of trouble for many individuals as they are not able to fulfill the procedural requirements. In countries like Syria, Somalia, etc. facing humanitarian issues, the banks have stopped the transfer of funds as they fear fund reaching wrong hands which would invite trouble to them. As a result of this, many war-torn nations are not getting humanitarian aid due to lack of funds being allowed to them.
Further, it is feared that the law agencies have not yet unearthed all forms of money laundering being used around the world. Many cases of money laundering, simply go undetected or are classified by the banks as genuine transactions given the existing guidelines. There are instances of political and other external factor influencing the non-classification of such funds as terror or money laundering funds. Whenever the agencies catch up with such funding or mode of funding, the criminals continue to traffic such money using other means and quickly change the method of fund transfer. This is also due to non-sharing of novel money laundering methods found by inter-governmental agencies and regulators. In past instances, banks and financial institutions have been fined for noncompliance with minor Anti Money laundering laws but none of the issues involved any irregularity. In 2014, Standard Chartered Bank was fined $300 million not because there was evidence of money laundering in funds transferred to Iran but because the compliance level of the bank was considered weak and below par at it
New York branch and had failed to inform the agencies about a wire transfer to Iran. In India, the HSBC Ltd came under the lense for deficient role in providing information as “offshore reviewers,” A committee constituted by the RBI found that the bank’s compliance to safety mechanism against money laundering and terrorist financing was very weak and did not match the protocol. The monitoring protocols were found to be very weak. The bank was earlier fined 1.9 million $ by the US Government for the same charge. The bank had failed to meet the regulator’s vision of ideal anti-money laundering or counter financing policies. In most cases, the international banking transactions are stopped only by automated controls and by a list of blacklisted accounts and entities. No other factors are considered as the International banks are not aware of the source of funds. It’s the originating bank which is required to look into the same, but they are more interested in business and application of AML Norms in a mechanical manner. In case of any suspicious transactions, the same are marked to originating banks which look into the issue and ensure that their client is not unduly affected by the delay. Most of the time the red flags are on trivial matters, and a large number of such transactions are marked to the originating bank. A large number of such transactions make the person overseeing them overburdened and uninterested. She/he is more interested in getting things cleared so that it is not to the detriment of the banks business.
All banks and financial institutions, engaged in a business of fund transfer are required to prepare and submit a report with details of the transfer affected in US Dollars. This report is also called Currency transaction report (CTR) for all transactions involving an amount of $10000 and above. Another report is the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) is also prepared in which the details of suspicious transactions or illegal activity as per the norms is reported. So far it’s a good effort to control and check any suspicious transactions. The problem is that these reports are filled with hundreds of such transactions. Even transactions with small technical errors are reported. With a passive number of such reports received from so many banks and institutions, the agencies and Governments are not able to concentrate on the actual productive work and are left with a massive data and information which is ultimate of no use. The report potentially kills its real purpose. Banks and Financial Institutions do not want to risk any warning for violations or non-compliance and are over cautious. They merely fill the report mechanically which instead of helping the enforcement agency check incidences of money laundering, leads them to a dead end of compiling such a vast data. It has been observed that international movement of money is a complex system and people involved in money laundering often keep on changing money from one hand to another and through multiple accounts so that the trace and trail of money from the originating account to the terminating account is difficult to track. In case of BNP Bank, the bank was charged with noncompliance and nondisclosure of money transfer to Sudan, Cuba, and Iran. The bank noted that transfers were being routed through satellite banks to this country to disguise the transfers but failed to disclose this Information in 2014-2015 to the regulators and were made liable for a fine of $9 billion. In a normal case, the risk management system is not able to track complex transactions and follow the trials of money transfer. The criminals adopt a practice of information stripping in which case some of the important information is deliberately left out, and thus the trigger of sensitive words as per the database is not triggered. Stripping helps to circumvent the restricted words in the computer system that automatically identifies the target account. Enforcement agencies around the world have found that in many cases the employees of the banks and transfer companies are involved in this process. Investigations conducted showed that M/s ZTE a chines company engaged in trading of telecom equipment had knowingly sold and shipped US-originating goods to Iran and North Korea, which was in breach of export controls and sanction restrictions, The telecom equipment, under question were dual-use goods and can be used for igniting nuclear reactions. M/s ZTE not only used cut off companies to divert the sale but also mixed the restricted goods with the non- restricted goods and failed to declare the details of restricted goods in the packing list of exports. Thus by not declaring the export of the sensitive goods in the shipping bill, the consignment could go to Iran and North Korea un-checked. This is one example of information stripping. The information was stripped off its essential declaration. The management introduced a special team of officers to hide information of such transfers from the authorities including the deleting of e-mails on a regular basis and carried it on for years together till they were finally caught. In March 2017, M/s ZTE admitted the crime and agreed to a historic $1.19 settlement with various US agencies.
Google has on 23rd March 2018, announced two separate Blockchain projects it is working on: a “tamper-proof” auditing system and a cloud operations platform to create a “tamper-evident” ledger by Blockchain. Its sister company, the Alphabet Inc, is bidding to utilize the technology to create a platform for transparent audit review. This shows how the big technology giants around the world are banking on the Blockchains to usher them into the future and also ensure their supremacy in the race to beat the competition. Other issues that are creating challenges for implementation of Blockchains are the reliability of Blockchain that is adopted by the institution and the issue of privacy of the data. One more issue is the cost of processing per unit.
BLOCKCHAINS AGAINST MONEY LAUNDERING
Blockchains can aid in controlling and catching transfers about money laundering on a real-time basis. The results of the same will hold true under the following circumstances:-
- 1. Money laundering is done using International transfers is one. Money laundering at the local level is difficult to track as the Banks Anti Money laundering laws are relaxed for federal transfers. Money laundering is done with well-oiled channels to mislead the banks and financial institution to assume that the transfer is an actual transaction.
- 2. The blockchain referred related to distributed ledger systems and limited to blockchain within the Bitcoin system. The world and the financial system around the world work on Centralized Fiatbased currency. These Fiat currencies are issued by the Governments of the countries and are legal tender or money in that country and other countries that accept the same. Here the Governments and the Central banks act as a trust to support and pay the value of their money to the holder. They derive the value based number of Geopolitical and economic factors. Blockchains was initiated as a backbone and account book for the virtual, decentralized currency named Bitcoins.
Cryptocurrencies are trustless currencies, i.e., they do not have support or backing of any Central Bank to guarantee the value of the same. They are not issued nor controlled by any Government or Central banks, and thus they derive the value from the market force. Blockchains are the electronic open ledgers on which the transaction of the Bitcoins and other Cryptocurrencies are transacted and sealed. These transactions are based on Cryptographic hashing using public and private keys and thus very safe, irrefutable and unchangeable records of the transactions.
These transactions establish the ownership rights of the holder of the Cryptocurrencies.
A network of participating nodes validates the transactions of Bitcoins and other Cryptocurrencies and not by a single centralized agency or authority. Thus the records keeping of operations is done by nodes and not by any specified body empowered to do the same. The Blockchains thus require no approval or permission from any Central agency and are therefore autonomous. The Blockchains system had been developed by its developers to enable a transaction and record keeping of Bitcoins. The Distributed ledger now being adopted by major banks and other businesses encompass a much broader function, use, and definition. The Distributed ledger can thus support the role of so many other systems besides the Bitcoins. Distributed ledgers can be designed and programmed to support so many social and economic transactions and record keeping as compared to Bitcoins. They can also be used to allow entry or use to the authorized user only. It can be deployed with various levels of controls, permissions, and flexibility. Given the vast use and applications, a Distributed ledger can be used to provide infrastructure and tools within the risk management to control money laundering. It will no doubt require the world banking system to give up the SWIFT system and adopt a commonly distributed ledger to enable transfer of funds. It will also entail adopting of new technology and thus require time and investment to become a reality.
In controlling money laundering, the distributed ledger can provide the following advantages:-
- POINT-TO-POINT CREDENTIAL
Since the Distributed ledger is an open source program, the users such as banks and financial institutions will be able to directly check the credentials of the sender and receiver of the funds instead of relying on the report of the banker with whom these entities do banking. A distributed ledger can provide a digital certificate of the parties to the transaction, and a participating entity such as banks and financial institutions can verify the credentials. It will also help to review or rate new credentials to assist in future transactions. Any false information or cases of information stripping if any, will be immediately shown by the system itself and thus, it can help in controlling crimes. Given the above fresh ratings online by the parties to the transactions, the Know Your Customer credentials will be updated from time to time, and their rating will also be available to the banks, financial institution and Enforcement agencies to check and control. A distributed ledger will help check the credentials of the parties to the transaction regarding transfer value, and the history of transactions of these parties can be checked to find any transfer of suspicious nature. Another feature that can add and checked the distributed ledger is the scorecard of the bank and agencies handling the accounts of the accounts. Many times shady financial institutions have been found to have aided in the process of money laundering. A status and rating of such intermediaries can be added to the distributed ledger network to monitor the flow of money being carried out by these suspicious banks or financial institutions. This will aid in channelizing the attention to the transfers carried out through these suspicious or blacklisted intermediaries which are not possible in case of normal transfers. Not all transfers carried on by these intermediaries are of nature of money laundering but using the smokescreen of these other transactions, aid in money laundering is made. In a normal situation, it is not possible to track the transactions by these intermediaries, but with distributed networks, the technology can be put to use.
- TRAIL OPEN FOR AUDIT
The most basic and dynamic feature of a distributed ledger is the validation and authentication function by which the transaction is not only validated by also recorded on the system. Since the distributed network is an open source program and spread over the internet, it’s transparent, and the transactions can be traced to the recipient and sender by anyone who is participating in the system. Thus in case of any suspicious transfers, the enforcement agencies can immediately take action as there is no need to approach any central agency to identify the location of the account on the distributed network. Secondly, the records being noted and digitally recorded will always be available for audit trails and can prove as evidence in the court of law as the same are irrefutable records.
Thus distributed ledgers which connect the KYC verified accounts would be a great source of verification and enforcement of money laundering. An addition of suspicious banks and financial institutions will aid in locating the transactions more easily. They will also produce audit trials to the agencies and will prove to be clinching evidence before the court of law. It will make the trails of transactions an easy task which is usually difficult currently as criminals use some accounts and transactions spread across the globe to misguide the enforcement agencies.
Distributed ledgers ensure that it’s not easy to lose track of the source and destination of every transaction and thus aid in tracking of the same. Another important aspect of the Distributed ledger is that it allows access only to authorized users as against Blockchains which allows access to any user. The potential risk of transacting without revealing to a third party the details of a transaction is thus eliminated. Thus there can be a specialized team of officers or people who can be entrusted to work of tracking suspicious transactions without alerting other users on the Distributed network and thus eliminate the risk of leakage of information.
- THE SPEED OF FOLLOW UP ACTION
In cases of fully deployed Distributed ledger system, participants such as banks, central banks and any other authorized entities, will be able to share information about the particular account or on any transactions by contributing to the distributed ledger. In case of advanced distributed ledgers, an Algorithm can be built to identify patterns and analyze data as per the specification. The software based on algorithm will thus automatically signal transaction of suspicious nature to the Regulators in a scientific manner. The regulators can thus concentrate on such transfers to ascertain the genuineness of the operation. It will not only save time but will generate data on a real-time basis and save on human error. In today’s era, the sharing of information is not fast, and a huge lag of communication has helped the criminals launder the money using the flaws in the system. With Distributed ledger, the flaws will be covered, and the communication gap will be done away as things will be monitored on a real-time basis. In the absence of human intervention, the bias of helping a home client is done away, leaving such clients exposed to official scrutiny. The distributed ledger would be so programmed using the algorithm to directly point if any corridor or institution has compromised and this could extend to the smallest of the transaction which usually avoids official scrutiny. It could help reduce the ease at which the criminals can transfer illegal money over the banking channels from one country to another.