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Private Digital Currencies and Closed Payment Communities: Law, Regulation and Financial Exclusion After Bitcoin

(Award Abstract #1455859)

Bitcoin is the most famous of several new online, cryptographic currency or electronic payment system experiments based on an open-source database protocol referred to as a blockchain. The blockchain permits transactions to take place without a central authority, relying instead on a decentralized network of peers verifying and authorizing them. It permits "trust" without trusted third-parties or mediators. In addition, Bitcoin and systems like it are membership-based means of value transfer and only work if people actively join them. This project examines new forms of private digital currency, exploring shifts in blockchain-based systems, and how innovators and regulators have participated in, advanced, and challenged them. The research examines how a new cadre of corporate and regulatory professionals are creating, understanding, monitoring, and regulating blockchain-based experiments in payment and in legal services. Studying the interface between law and technology, this research is important not just for what it will reveal about law and regulation in the context of rapid technological change. It is also important because innovations with the bitcoin protocol raise broad questions about the changing nature of money, property, and law, and throw open for debate questions lawmakers thought settled at the end of the 19th century about the state's role in issuing money and the nature of contract. Broader impacts include training of graduate students and the creation and opening of a public-facing portal to a database and archive of compiled regulatory, policy, and industry documents.

As bitcoin-like systems move into the domain of law to create law-like substitutes, this research is designed to answer several questions. Do new digital currencies create new social and economic exclusions? What do these innovations say about changing understandings of money and law? What happens when new corporate entrants into payment imagine they are innovating in money, not just its transmission, and seek to "disrupt" not just payment, but professions like notaries and escrow agents? How do regulators respond to concomitant challenges to the public interest in payment and in law itself? The principal research activities are interviews with lawyers, regulators, and payments industry professionals, participant-observation at industry conferences, and code walkthroughs during which the researcher will follow programmers as they build new functionality into the blockchain.

 

EAGER: Piloting a multi-campus training program in algorithmic processes, data analytics and mobile computing for sociolegal scholars

(Award Abstract #1724735)

Changes in technology are revolutionizing the study and practice of law. A generation ago, law and social science scholars outlined a new paradigm for legal scholarship, focusing on social, economic and political variables in the interpretation and execution of the law. Today, algorithmic processes, data analytics and ubiquitous social and mobile computing pose new opportunities for the study of the effects of law, rules, and social norms. These new opportunities invite the use of new methodological techniques in law and social science research. Yet few law and social science scholars are trained to understand these new computational processes. This is a pilot of a collaborative, multidisciplinary, cross-campus network brought together to plan and train the next generation of law and social science scholars in algorithmic processes, data analytics and the opportunities presented by ubiquitous social and mobile computing. It is for the development of a faculty board, new curriculum, and new training activities to be centered primarily at a Technology, Law and Society Summer Institute. The goal is to develop the updated training necessary to ensure that the next generation of socio-legal scholars are equipped to utilize new methodological techniques and new sites of inquiry.

Just as the consideration of "law-in-action" shifted the paradigm for legal research by expanding it beyond the exegesis of law as written and into the domain of what judges, lawyers and citizens actually do with law and how they understand it in practice, the interface between law and computer-based and other computational systems offers the opportunity for a new paradigm shift in socio-legal studies. The proposed series of trainings, workshops and a summer institute will equip law and social science scholars to develop methods for the study of these new legal objects and relationships. During the academic year, participants will test methods and formats for cross-training and collaboration. The broader impacts include training new researchers and helping existing law and social science scholars to re-tool; collaborating with the technology and policy communities to bring law and social science research to bear on their activities; and fostering cross-disciplinary, cross-campus collaborations.

 

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