Verification Dilemmas in Law and the Promise of Zero-Knowledge Proofs

66 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2021 Last revised: 10 Jan 2022

See all articles by Kenneth A. Bamberger

Kenneth A. Bamberger

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Ran Canetti

Boston University, Department of Computer Science; Boston University, Faculty of Computing and Data Science; Boston University, Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cybersecurity

Shafi Goldwasser

University of California, Berkeley - Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing

Rebecca Wexler

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law

Evan J. Zimmerman

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

Date Written: February 7, 2021

Abstract

Individuals who wish to access a website or qualify for a loan are expected to expose personally identifying information, undermining privacy and security. Firms share proprietary information in deal-making negotiations that, if the deal fails, may be used by the negotiating partner for a competitive advantage. Regulators are expected to disclose their algorithmic tools to comply with public transparency and oversight requirements, which risks rendering these tools circumventable and ineffective. Litigants might have to reveal trade secrets in court proceedings to prove a claim or defense. Such “verification dilemmas”—costly choices between opportunities that require the verification of some fact and risks of exposing sensitive information in order to perform that verification—appear across the legal landscape. Yet, existing legal responses to them are imperfect. Legal responses often depend on ex post litigation procedures that can be prohibitively expensive for those most in need or otherwise ineffective.

Zero-knowledge proofs (ZKPs)—a class of cryptographic protocols that enables verification of a fact or characteristic of secret information without learning the actual secret—can help avoid these verification dilemmas. ZKPs can provide a feasible means for a party holding secret information to demonstrate desirable properties of this information while keeping the information otherwise hidden. Yet ZKPs have received scant notice in the legal literature. This Article fills that gap by providing the first deep dive into ZKPs’ broad relevance for law. It explains ZKPs’ conceptual power and technical operation to a legal audience. It then demonstrates howZKPs can be applied as a governance tool to transform verification dilemmas in multiple legal contexts. Finally, the Article surfaces and provides a framework to address the policy issues implicated by the potential substitution of ZKP governance tools in place of existing law and practice.

Keywords: Zero-Knowledge Proof, ZKP, Verification, Disclosure, Privacy, Accountability, Due Diligence, Trade Secrets, Cryptography

JEL Classification: K22, K23, K42, K12, K41, C00, C02, C65

Suggested Citation

Bamberger, Kenneth A. and Canetti, Ran and Goldwasser, Shafi and Wexler, Rebecca and Zimmerman, Evan, Verification Dilemmas in Law and the Promise of Zero-Knowledge Proofs (February 7, 2021). Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3781082 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3781082

Kenneth A. Bamberger (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

Boalt Hall NA446
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
(510) 643-6218 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.berkeley.edu/faculty/profiles/facultyProfile.php?facID=5701

Ran Canetti

Boston University, Department of Computer Science ( email )

Boston, MA
United States

Boston University, Faculty of Computing and Data Science ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Boston University, Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cybersecurity ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

Shafi Goldwasser

University of California, Berkeley - Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing ( email )

121 Calvin Lab #2190
UC Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Rebecca Wexler

University of California, Berkeley, School of Law ( email )

691 Simon Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510 664 5258 (Phone)

Evan Zimmerman

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

215 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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