Recently at a conference in Dubai, Brian Quintenz, who is a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Commissioner, expressed his personal opinion (rather than the views of the CFTC) on the conceptual challenges in applying the CFTC’s regulatory oversight to, and fostering accountability for, smart contracts that reside on decentralized blockchains. In particular, Quintenz conveyed his belief that smart contract developers could potentially be held liable for aiding and abetting activity that violates CFTC regulations through the use of a smart contract that they programmed, if they “could reasonably foresee, at the time they created the code, that it would likely be used by U.S. persons in a manner violative of CFTC regulations.”
At a high level, a smart contract is computer code encoded on a blockchain that is programmed to automate the execution of a transaction upon the occurrence of a triggering event. The CFTC regulates the U.S. derivatives markets and thus has oversight authority over futures and swaps markets, including derivatives on commodity cryptocurrencies. Among the many potential applications of smart contracts, Quintenz identified as a regulatory concern the ability of smart contracts to emulate traditional financial products, such as binary options or derivative contracts. For example, through a smart contract on a blockchain, one could bet on the outcome of a sporting event and, if the prediction is correct, the smart contract could be programmed to automatically settle the bet using a cryptocurrency transfer without the involvement of an intermediary. Applications such as this, Quintenz stated, resemble “prediction markets” and “event contracts,” which may fall within the CFTC’s purview and raise regulatory issues.