Crypto-Custodians: Safeguarding Wildlife with Blockchain Technology

Crypto-Custodians: Safeguarding Wildlife with Blockchain Technology
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Marriage between wildlife law enforcement and technology has become a necessity as conventional methods of law enforcement are not yielding the desired results. Law enforcement requires technological interventions to supplement its relentless pursuit of combating wildlife crimes and safeguarding our wildlife heritage. Blockchain technology, with its unprecedented transparency, secure authentication, immutable record-keeping has potential to revolutionize the fight against the wildlife crimes. By preserving the digital & biological evidences and seamlessly interconnecting the various wings of wildlife criminal justice system blockchain technology can usher in new era for wildlife law enforcement.

Blockchain technology is a decentralized and immutable digital ledger system. This technology records transactions across various computers in a distributed manner. Transactions are grouped into a 'block' and each 'block' is connected with previous 'blocks' in a continuous manner. This feature makes the data stored on blockchain platform tamper-proof and secured from unauthorized alterations. This technology represents revolutionary shift in the way data is stored and transactions are conducted in the digital era.

Blockchain technology can be harnessed by wildlife law enforcement in following ways:

  • Creating a Blockchain based Wildlife Criminal Justice Ecosystem: Inter-linking of all components of wildlife criminal justice system i.e. law enforcement agencies, forensic laboratories, prosecutorial offices, judiciary, prisons etc. on a blockchain ecosytem will bring in more transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in criminal justice system. To crate this ecosystem, a consorium may be formed with representatives from all stakeholders. Taking into consideration the factors like security & privacy features, scalability and compatibility with existing systems and requirements of the wildlife criminal justice system, a suitable blockchain platform may be selected for development of this ecosystem. Unlike Bitcoin Blockchain or Etherium Blockchain which are permissionless and public in nature, technical architecture of wildlife criminal justice ecosystem has to be that of a private or permissioned blockchain as only authorized stakeholders will have access to it. Governnace rules, roles and responsibility of each stakeholder  may be well defined for smooth operation of this ecosystem. Standards for interoperability among various wings of this ecosytem have to be put in place. Consensus mechanism & smart contracts functionalities also need to be well defined. Each component of this ecosystem requires to be assigned a digital identity so that secure and authenticated access to the blockchain network may be ensured. Nodes for each authorized official of various wings of wildlife criminal justice system will have to be created for seamless & secured sharing of documents, evidences, reports among various stakeholders and for ensuring timely necessary action by each stakeholder. Self-executing smart contracts with predefined rules & conditions may also be created for automating various processes involved in wildlife criminal justice system such as evidence submission, court proceedings, tracking of  status of the case, prison management etc. For example, once the judiciary allows the bail application of the accused, the authenticated copy of the same may be immediately shared with jail authorities where the accused is kept under judicial custody on this blockchain based ecosystem and the accused may be released immediately. This will solve the problem of delayed release of the accused from the prison as jail authorities wait for the receipt of authenticated physical copy of bail order before releasing the accused. This blockchain based ecosystem also helps all stakeholders in the wildlife criminal justice system in getting real time updates and notifications regarding the progress of the wildlife crime case including court proceedings.
  • Preserving Digital and Biological Evidences: Blockchain technology can play a significant role in preservation of digital and biological evidences obtained through Digital Forensics and Wildlife Forensics. A unique digital identity may be assigned to each biological sample of poached or illegally traded wildlife such as tiger skin, pangolin scales, elephant ivory, rhino horn, poached hornbill etc. which are seized by law enforcement agencies. These digital identities will contain and store all relevant informations like name of the species, quantity/size-dimensions of wildlife contraband, location of seizure, date & time of seizure,  seizing authority etc. on the blockchain platform. Analysis/Test Reports of the Wildlife Forensics Laboratory can also be shared & stored on blockchain platform. These biological evidences and other digital evidences including files, metadata, forensic analysis reports etc. become immutable records once stored on blockchain and they can't be altered or deleted which ensures their integrity & authenticity also. Further, forensic analysts can use digital signatures to authenticate the integrity of their forensic analysis reports. These evidences would always be reliable & admissible in the court of law during trial. Blockchain technology can also create tamper-proof/immutable record of chain of custody of digital/biological evidences with time stamps to ensure accountability throughout the investigation process. Using encryption techniques, blockchain technology also ensures the secure storage of evidences and access to these evidences only to authorized persons who are part of the wildlife crime investigation. Smart contracts can be used for automating the process of authentication & verification of these evidences before they are produced in the court of law.
  • Automating Permit Processes for Legal Wildlife Trade: Blockchain Technolgy can automate the processes involved in the issuance of Permits/Licence for legal wildlife trade. Let me explain this by giving example of export of red sanders (protected under Appendix II of CITES) of wild origin from India. Various stakeholders such as CITES Management Authority, Customs Authority, red sanders seizing Authority; Survey & Utilization Division of Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change; Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest of concerned State have some role to play in it. Exporters of red sanders may also be allowed to be part of this ecosystem. Blockchain based ecosystem with all these authorities on board can bring in transformational shift in the regulation of legal trade of seized red sanders of wild origin. All these stakeholders including exporters may be assigned a distinct digital identity with well defined role, responsibilty and authorization for access. Red sanders seizing authorities from Central & State Governments may assign digital identities to their seized stock of red sanders with all details like quantitity, their specifications and marking details, loacation of seizure, seizing authority, case file number, godown details where seized red sanders are kept etc. Survey & Utilization Division of Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change fixes the quota for export of red sanders by various authorities. This quota may also be assigned distinct digital identity. Principal Chief Conservator of Forest of concerned State issues the certificate of origin and stock verification report which may be assigned digital identities. Directorate General of Foreign Trade issues licence for export of red sanders. These licences may also be assigned digital identies. CITES Management Authority issues the CITES Permits for export of red sanders. These permits may also be assigned digital identities. Through smart contracts various processes involved in export of seized red sanders of wild origin can be automated subject to the fulfilment of pre-defined conditions. For example, once the exporter makes application with all supporting documents such as DGFT Licence, PCCF Certificate of Origin & Stock Verification Report etc. (which can be verified and authenticated by concerned stakeholders on the blockchain ecosystem in an automated manner) to the CITES Management Authority for CITES Permit, same can be issued in fraction of time it takes in the current system of manual processing of application. CITES Permits issued on the blockchain ecosystem will be immutable record which can not be aleterd or forged. This will alo resolve the problem of illegal willdife trade by producing fake CITES Permits as these can be verified & authenticated by CITES Management Authorities on their Blockchain Ecosystem easily. 
  • Enhancing International Cooperation: Wildlife crime is the fourth largest transnational organized crime. It requires cross-border cooperation between wildlife law enforcement agencies of various countries to combat this crime effectively. Blockchain networks can be developed for seamless cooperation and collaboration between wildlife law enforcement agencies of different countries. This may help in sharing of intelligence related to willdife trafficking and also informations to assist the investigation into cross-border wildlife crimes in encrypted and secure manner. This will further bolster the global efforts to combat this crime as a united front.

To conclude,  Blockchain Technology has emerged as a robust technological innovation and integrating this with wildlife criminal justice system can result into embarking on a journey towards more strengthened, transparent and accountable law enforcement for coutering the srious threats posed by wildlife criminal syndicates and for conserving the protected species of flora and fauna.

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