Alibaba applies patent for blockchain system to aid law enforcement

Singapore, SINGAPORE – Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has filed a patent on a blockchain system with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The system will allow for third-party administrators to intervene with “special transactions” on a smart contract if they suspect illegal activity.

Initially filed in March, the patent application details a blockchain powered transaction method which will enable authorised parties to freeze accounts associated with illegal transactions. Alibaba’s blockchain system would provide law enforcement agencies with the ability to execute “special transactions” on the network.

The USPTO has published the patent application document on 4th October. The document details how the system would be executed:

“[…] upon receiving an operation instruction sent from a designated account, a node in a blockchain network can invoke a corresponding smart contract when determining that the operation instruction is issued legally, to execute corresponding operations on an account corresponding to the to-be-operated account information, which achieves a goal of supervision on accounts in the blockchain and solves the problem of processing special transactions like administrative intervention in a blockchain.”

Alibaba researchers have provided several key points, one of which being that standard smart contracts do not provide the authorities the ability to freeze user accounts suspected of illegal activities. The authors have suggested that practical considerations need to be in place when integrating the blockchain into real-world environment, as mentioned in the document:

“… this operation (freezing of suspicious accounts) activity conflicts with smart contracts in existing blockchains and cannot be carried out.”

“Therefore, there is a need for a blockchain-based transaction processing method that enables special transactions like administrative intervention in a blockchain.”

The authors however admit that there is also a risk element with this system as hackers could target administrator accounts to gain access to the system. To curb this, the researchers suggested “decentralizing supervisory power” among accounts, writing:

“[…] it prevents the loss of all supervision power over the blockchain when one designated account is compromised.”

This new proposed system by Alibaba would reportedly reduce the complexity for administrators to perform these tasks while also widening the scope of their abilities to monitor the network.