Blockchain Enabling Digital Identity
When you were born, your parents signed some papers and paid some money to the government.
From then on, you existed in the law, unlocking your human rights. But millions of people never went through this and are virtually invisible. They live with this burden facing social, financial and educational exclusion every day.
A piece of paper ratifies our existences, a birth certificate. A piece of paper many don’t receive. One that many lose while they escape violence, war or from displacement due to natural disasters.
Ownership of our identity is an acknowledged human right in the UN’s convention on the right of the child. Yet…
1.1 billion people can’t claim their identities.
Approximately 29% of countries don’t have proper records of birth certificates
Two hundred ninety million children under the age of 5 are unregistered.
1 in 7 registered kids don’t own birth certificates.
Without birth certificates, many lose access to medical services, social security, education. Birth certificates are the foundations of being recognized by the law and securing your rights. Necessary for the right to vote, obtaining travel documents, applying to various jobs and opening bank accounts. Parents of children without birth certificates are often separated because they can’t validate their relation to their child.
It makes them increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, including child marriage, labour, conscription and being tried as an adult in legal cases.
Why aren’t they registered?
Factors such as cost, time, government, forgery and discrimination play a role. Majority of these people come from third world countries from low socioeconomic backgrounds. In countries such as Liberia in 2008, 96% of births went unregistered. Only 9% of Children in Bangladesh get registered by their first birthday and a mere 3% in Somalia.
In an increasingly digital era, many countries continue to rely on physical documentation. These documents must be issued by central authorities, which can be corrupt or unstable. Lack of infrastructure causes over 100 countries to not have functioning Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) systems. Time-wise it can take weeks to months to mail, and can’t guarantee it reaches the intended person. The costs associated are unaffordable for many.
Creating a digital Id alone isn’t enough. Questions arise such as; “What if there’s a breach?”, “How would surveillance states use this?”.
Here’s where DLTs come in.
Blockchain’s superpower is in their immutability, distribution, and security. Blockchains are significantly more immune to breaches as they require numerous points of failure compared to central databases. Their encryption method is super secure. They can be easily accessed and audited. Because of their immutable nature, they prevent tampering; no one can change facts about a person all changes are visible as appended blocks on the chain.
The ID2020 framework highlights the characteristics of a quality digital ID, Notice how blockchains fulfill all these properties.
- Private- Each individual owns their private key, smart contracts allow them to control who has access to their data.
- Personal- blockchains utilize unique keys to solve cryptographic hashes. These keys can be linked to personal identifiers such as biometrics.
- Persistent- The chain will record all changes made to its blocks. Individuals who have their keys can access it at any time.
- Portable- in majority of cases removing physical documentations, decreases the danger of losing their data due to travel, disaster or weather. It is also easy to share and audit to service providers.
Especially advantageous for refugees who struggle to be granted asylum due to missing documents. Surprisingly when your house is being bombed, most people would grab their loved ones not search their drawers for papers. With over 20 million refugees and 10million stateless people, this issue causes problems for both states and those seeking admittance into them.
Homeless populations struggle to maintain their documents too, in many cases they get stolen, lost, or damaged by weather. Opening up digital id’s for these people will allow them to build a history of transactions which they can share with third-parties. Removing the hassle of gathering chunks of information to figure out a person’s financial or medical past especially useful for service providers.
Illinois in 2017 launched a pilot project which offers people with id the ability to access their birth certificates on a distributed ledger and grant permission to third parties to view their information. Working with Evernym of Herriman, they plan to make it more decentralized.
Leading the DLT world, Estonia provides all its citizens with a digital id card as part of their e-identity program. Allowing them to utilize almost all government services such as healthcare, tax, voting, licenses and passports. They plan to automate their birth registration onto the chain aswell.
Distributed ledger technology has massive potential in ensuring identity ownership, I placed a lot of emphasis on birth certificates, but numerous other areas are being explored, making processes cheaper, faster, more accessible and secure.
UN and world food program
Piloting their building blocks program to better track the allocation of WFP aid is set to reach 100,000 people. The program took off in the Azraq camp in Jordan. To get food, people would use biometric eye scans to unlock their accounts. The head of U.N. Women’s humanitarian unit echoes the belief that though the program unintentionally provided refugees with a digital id, in the future years, it could turn into a more extensive track record of their skills and education.
In 2017 Zug, Switzerland created electronic IDs on Ethereum which were used to participate in a small voting experiment. In West Virginia USA, the state partnered with Voatz to create a mobile app which allowed users to vote. It required a photo of ID and a video of their eyes. Enabling users to vote from anywhere around the world.
Dubai Is onset to be the worlds leading city in blockchain by 2020 by having all applicable government transactions on-chain. Launching UAEPASS allowing residents and visitors to use local and federal services through their online ID’s and using their digital signatures.
- Like normal IDs, private keys too can be lost
- coordination there are many piolets, but they need to begin working together with public, private sectors and institutions
- Acceptance by states
- Privacy of data; biometrics may not be sufficient alone.
- Majority of piolets ran on permissioned chains. Scalability sacrifices decentralization
- Those without technology need centers, finding accessible locations and carry associated costs
Though they still have a long way to go, this technology can solve an issue affecting over 1 billion people and we should continue to explore its potential.