In 1600 François de La Rochefoucauld wrote that true love is like ghosts which everyone speaks of but few have seen. With a little poetic licence we could say the same today about the blockchain: everyone speaks of it but few really understand it.
Not a day goes by without it being proposed that the blockchain be applied to the most disparate sectors, from control of the chain of production of the chickens we find on supermarket shelves, to the payment of royalties to authors each time part of a work is streamed. The problem is that in most cases the proposed technologies are not “real” blockchains but possess only some of their characteristics.
What is certain is the interest many countries throughout the world are showing in this technology, to the point of making it an integral part of long term development strategies. Just to give a couple of examples, in the UAE the blockchain is seen as a fundamental instrument in the creation of smart cities which are hyper-connected and straddle the present and future, while in China it is mainly considered to be a lever for industrial growth.
At EU level there are already numerous initiatives on the matter, including the launch of the EU Blockchain Observatory and Forum, inaugurated by the European Commission on 1 February 2018, and the Resolution of the European Parliament on distributed ledger technologies and blockchains of 3 October 2018.
In Italy, for the moment, it seems that we cannot speak of a real strategy. However, the recent adoption of a legislative definition of blockchain and smart contract demonstrates at least that there is interest in and sensitivity towards the issue. Further confirmation of this comes from the fact that the current government has recently set up a group of experts on the blockchain within the Department of Economic Development, whose inaugural session took place on 21 January last.
The definition in art. 8-ter of Law no. 12 of 11 February 2019, which converted into law the so-called “simplification” decree of last December, does not speak expressly of “blockchains”, but of the broader set of “distributed ledger technologies”, which also include blockchains. They are defined as «technologies and computer protocols which use a shared, distributed, replicable, simultaneously accessibile, architecturally decentralized ledger on cryptographic bases, such as to allow the registration, validation, updating and storage of data both unencrypted and further protected by cryptography verifiable by each participant, non-alterable and non-modifiable». The definition therefore touches the principal characteristics by which the blockchain is known to the public: the distributed and decentralized nature of the system and the non-alterability and non-modificability of the data transmitted thereby.
Law 12/2019 therefore goes beyond mere definition, stating that «storage of a data document through the use of technologies based on distributed ledgers has the same legal effects as electronic time validation» as per the 2014 EU Regulation on electronic identification and trust services for electronic transactions in the internal market (Regulation (EU) no. 910/2014/).
This means, first of all, that the storage of data documents through distributed ledger technologies allows a particular time and date to be automatically attributed thereto, so as to prove that such documents existed in that moment. One further effect of data documents being stored by means of advanced electronic signature, advanced electronic seal or equivalent methods is that there would be a presumption of accuracy as to the date and time indicated by the time validation and of integrity with regard to the data with which the date and time are associated.
To sum up, the provision indirectly states that not all distributed ledger technologies can produce the legal effects described above, but only those whose technical standards are specifically identified by the Digital Italy Agency (Agenzia per l’Italia digitale –AgID -), within 60 days of entry into force of Law 12/2019. It simply remains to wait for the technical rule of the AgID to understand the actual scope of the provision.