In brief

  • The Brazilian Army planned to use blockchain to track guns and other weapons and better control the circulation of firearms in the country.
  • President Jair Bolsonaro shut down the project, citing irregularities with the guidelines.
  • Brazilian prosecutors are now investigation whether Bolsonaro's order may have violated Brazil's constitution.

A recent decision by the government of Brazil has sparked a legal and political conflict between the president, the army, and the country's judiciary. 

According to regional press reports, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro may have violated the constitution by shutting down a military project that sought to use blockchain technology to track guns and other weapons.

Brazil's Public Prosecutor’s Office said it opened two judicial investigations against President Bolsonaro for suspicion of interfering with the duties of the federal police and obstructing military operations.

A constitutional crisis, on the blockchain

The origins of the controversy are national ordinances (Colog No. 46, 60, and 61) published in March of this year. According to these acts, the Brazilian Army Logistics Command became tasked with creating the National System for Monitoring Controlled Products (Sisnar). 

The system used blockchain technology to track the supply chain of products controlled by the Brazilian Army, from the purchase of weapons, ammunition, and other supplies to their distribution in consumer markets. 

While the army at the time did not specify the type of blockchain network that would be used, it would presumably be a permissioned (i.e. private) network controlled internally by the military.

The idea was for this system to enable tighter control over the circulation of firearms in the country—Brazil has 14 of the 50 most violent cities in the world, according to figures from the Mexican organization Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal (Citizen's Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice).

President Bolsonaro, however, objected to the blockchain-based tracking system for guns. "Gun hobbyists and collectors: I have determined to revoke COLOG Ordinances No 46, 60 and 61, of March 2020, which deal with the tracking, identification and marking of weapons, ammunition, and other controlled products, because they do not conform to my guidelines defined in the decrees," the president said on his official Twitter account.

Known for his pro-gun stance, Bolsonaro's words may not have come as a shock to political observers. But it was apparently the last straw for other branches of Brazil’s government.

Brazilian prosecutor Raquel Branquinho accused Bolsonaro of violating a constitutional order, preventing the Army from being able to effectively protect Brazilian citizens by controlling the use of guns and ammo.

Meanwhile, another investigation against Bolsonaro is being directed by the Federal Attorney for Citizens' Rights and the External Control Chamber of Police Activity and Prison System. The attorneys plan to ask the Army to carry on with its proposed project, despite the president’s interference.

If a Brazilian court revokes Bolsonaro's decision, blockchain technology would make it easier to trace weapons seized from criminals. But it could affect the arms industry for which Bolsonaro has an affinity, and which he has promised to protect when he ran for president.