Fear and hope at the DC Blockchain Conference

Fear and hope at the DC Blockchain Conference

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The Blockchain Conference DC took place in a packed room at the Marvin Center of George Washington University’s campus in Washington, DC on July 28th.

“How many people here work for the US Government?” the host asked.

Over a dozen people raised their hands.

“How about – are there any regulators in the room?”

Nervous laughter followed. Nobody openly admitted that they were a regulator, but the tension was palpable.


This conference took place less than a week after a series of high-profile government actions in the blockchain space. See here, here and here for some detailed pieces on the increasingly aggressive “safeguards” US legislators are taking on the blockchain platforms.

The SEC issued a statement regarding Slock.it’s DAO, claiming that a security is a security even if it is implemented on a blockchain. Although they have not taken punitive action, this statement has already had a chilling effect on a number of DAOs nearing their token sales; for instance, the Harbour DAO has already scuttled its current plan for a collective intelligence investment fund.

Hours after the SEC published its statement, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced a $110 million fine against the notoriously shady BTC-e exchange, and arrested its founder on charges of money laundering.

Carol Vancleef, an attorney focused on financial tech, told the audience that these were not isolated events: the SEC wanted this high-profile criminal takedown to be out there, just as their own investigation was sending shockwaves through the blockchain community.

The message, her panel surmised, is clear: if your service interacts with US residents, then you should follow US regulations or expect consequences. Currently, crypto-exchanges vary widely in how closely they follow regulated practices like “Know-Your-Customer”, but this may change if these actions continue.

This conference was not all dreadful, though. An administrator from the General Services Administration (the bureau of bureaucracies) was happy to report that their pro-blockchain initiatives within the government were going well. He cited a recent meeting of over 100 directors from different agencies, all coming together to explore how blockchains can change their way of providing services.

When the US government does get behind a blockchain initiative, the impact it will have will be tremendous. Thus, from this conference a glimpse of both immense destruction and creation on the horizon could be seen.

Cutting beyond the hopes and fear of the federal government was Brendan Blumer, the CEO of block.one, the company behind EOS. He offered a vision for Decentralized Autonomous Corporations – synonymous with DAO’s. He told the audience that these entities would flourish once the eco-system was built out a bit more.

His vision of DACs was probably lost on the majority of the conference attendees, whose current salaries prohibit fully grasping just how thoroughly blockchains are going to disrupt their legacy organizations.  

Featured image from Wikimedia commons

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