PEOPLE | Jan 30, 2019

Blockchain calls for standards: an interview with Andrea Caccia

The president of the UNI/CT 532 Commission on Blockchain explains why it is important to standardize an increasingly widespread technology.

A worldwide spending of $ 1.5 billion in 2018, up 103% compared with 2017. This is what emerges from a new study by IDC on Blockchain. Although there are still few (9%) companies in Europe claiming to carry out pilot projects or to have them in production, blockchain investments have doubled compared with 2017, reaching 560 million Euro in the European Union.

There is great attention towards this emerging technology at a European level, but also a growing need for standardization, given that there is increasing talk about Distributed Ledger Technologies for applications that go beyond those relating to crypto currency.

The massive use of Blockchain – states Andrea Caccia, chairman of the UNI/CT 532 committee and of the Focus Group CEN/CENELEC Blockchain and DLT – has been in the area of crypto currencies, each of which was born spontaneously and operates in a strictly autonomous manner, without any form of centralization. The need for standardization was completely satisfied by sharing the code of the software used. Very interesting uses of BDLT technologies are emerging and consolidating, which promise to reduce costs in cases where in order to ensure the certainty of transactions or the origin, integrity and authenticity of information, expensive and inflexible centralized structures would be used. The availability of standards for BDLT-based infrastructures plays a fundamental enabling role as, unlike crypto currencies, the basic requirements here are the possibility of integrating services and applications managed by different subjects, giving all stakeholders sufficient guarantees of availability, integrity and origin of the information and of the transactions”.

The importance of standardization is recognized in Europe by the European Parliament Resolution dated 3 October 2018 and by the work being carried out by two of the three standardization Bodies recognized at European level, CEN and CENELEC: these two committees have in fact launched a focus group designed to identify specific needs in terms of standardization, mapping these on the activities underway at an international level in ISO and have recently published the white paper Recommendations for Successful Adoption in Europe of Emerging Technical Standards on Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologiesdeveloped under the guidance of Pietro Marchionni of AgID.

Standards – continues Caccia – can play a key and enabling role, as they try to respond to issues such as ensuring adequate security levels, making the security features of a BDLT-based infrastructure comparable to a traditional one. This would allow stakeholders to assess the risk, the legal compliance in areas such as privacy and digital identity, given that there are very strict regulations in Europe, the GDPR and the eIDAS). Moreover, as regards the problem of interoperability, they would allow the use of this technology in typically international contexts, where there is a coexistence of many players who need to interact with different roles.

What are the difficulties in developing standards?

In the BDLT field, the development of standards poses difficulties that should not be underestimated: it is a market with a high potential but which is immature, where the only current large-scale applications are crypto currencies, a phenomenon which started from the bottom and is rather refractory to rules imposed from the outside. In addition, these are typically “horizontal” technologies and the standards must be able to support a large number of applications in disparate fields on the one hand and comply with common rules, such as the aforementioned GDPR and eIDAS, on the other. These difficulties should not, however, drive us to tread seemingly quicker and easier paths, which would then lead to a market fragmentation, favoring the large technology providers alone and putting SMEs, which are prevalent in the European context and particularly in Italy, out of action”.

In this context, how should our country act?

Thinking of the Italian context it is essential that any intervention should take into account the European position of Italy and all the many initiatives of the European Commission. For example, regulatory interventions misaligned with the eIDAS Regulation (and the same Digital Administration Code) risk introducing elements of confusion capable of curbing the use of these technologies instead of promoting it. Businesses need a stable regulatory framework to plan investments: it is essential that legal measures should create the right conditions without introducing technical constraints which risk blocking innovation on the one hand, and on the other of requiring continuous adaptation actions to “chase” after the technology, thus undermining the main reason why the measures themselves were adopted in the first place”.