Shweta Jain, Ph.D., leads CBTS Summer Research Team at John Jay College of Criminal Justice – City University of New York
Following a 10-week survey of literature on blockchain distributed ledger technologies (DLT), a research team at John Jay College of Criminal Justice produced a set of best practices and a vision for business-to-government cases where DLT can help enforce regulation compliance across global supply chains.
The project was funded as part of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Summer Research Team (SRT) administrated by ORISE with mentorship from experts at CBTS.
The research took place as blockchain DLTs became a global hot topic in the aftermath of COVID-19, which exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains.
In particular, the SRT found compliance with the US Forced Labor Protection Act (USFLPA) as an area where both businesses and the government can benefit from higher visibility, transparency, and security.
The SRT concluded that effective forensic examination of supply chains requires a multi-modal approach, incorporating various technologies with human intervention and oversight. They found that the strength of DLT lies in its ability to audit all processes within a supply chain, enabling human auditors to trace any anomaly back to a specific person or organization- extending auditability to known and unknown endpoints.
An exhaustive review of DLT literature
Dr. Shweta Jain of the City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and her team, Rose Wong and Amy Dang, conducted their review of distributed ledger technologies with a focus on potential DHS use cases.
The research team curated high-quality academic research and commercial publications related to DLT, case studies in commercial use-cases, security aspects, and practical considerations.
What started as a kind of business craze with ‘blockchain’ over five years ago has settled into more step-wise progress in exploration of DLTs with acknowledgment of their pros and cons reflected in the ebb and flow of the business adoption and rejection of the these technologies.
Dr. Jain was uniquely positioned to lead the project, given a background in computer science, routine work in her College with law enforcement personnel and topics, and with the experience of successfully fielding a blockchain application for smart phone media verification of authenticity.
Experiential learning for SRT students
The two John Jay students, Rose Wong and Amy Dang, hit the ground running in a compressed 10 week project window. Rose explored commercial publications, case studies published under the SVIP, other commercial implementations such as TradeLens and IBM Food Trust (IBM Supply Chain Intelligence Suite – Food Trust | IBM, n.d.), and the DHS University Program on Blockchain. She also explored commercial whitepapers on blockchain and DLT technologies. Amy focused on academic publications from IEEE and ACM databases. The team held informative meetings with Dr. Steve Liu of Texas A&M Computer Science Department, who previously worked on the Tuna Tracking project and exploration of US Customs data collection, as well as Marie Williams, the Business Transformation and Innovation Branch Chief at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Additionally, the team consulted with Dr. Tom Wilkinson, the Chief Medical Information Officer in the DHS Office of Health Security. Dr. Matt Cochran, CBTS Research Director and main SRT POC, was a constant source of subject matter expertise in the general areas of interest within DHS.
During the conversations, compliance with import regulations appeared to be a pressing B2G issue, which made it a good candidate use-case for digital ledger technology.
Lessons learned and the future
The team explored the USFLPA and various solutions that have been implemented by importers to enhance the traceability of their upstream supply chain from the raw material to the end product.
They also explored the CBP websites to understand what documentation and key data elements are needed to analyze the vendor’s supply chain and the implications to both the business and the government when goods are held at the border.
This project provided the SRT with a glimpse into real-world B2G challenges, particularly those related to cross-border trade, global supply chain, and immigration.
This exposure broadened their research interests, and set the stage for further work focused on prevention of the import of goods tainted by forced labor and other unsustainable practices; practices that erode the competitiveness of businesses’ with sound principles and ultimately can degrade consumer safety and the environment.
In this mix of solutions, DLT can serve as both a deterrent for dishonest behavior and a reliable source of evidence to hold offenders accountable.
Their work with DHS gave the team a useful new perspective on upcoming B2G challenges in trade and business- a jumping off point for additional applied research.