WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
The UN is backing a blockchain consortium to help them give a voice, and recognition, to over 2 billion people.
According to the United Nations there are over 2 billion people who have no way of proving who they are. And while at first glance this might not seem like a significant problem for people caught in this situation it means that in many cases they are unable to get access to finance, medical care or welfare, and, in worse cases end up either arrested, or in slavery.
Consequently, in an attempt to put things right ConsenSys, Microsoft and Blockstack Labs recently announced that they are all going to be collaborating together to build an open source, self sovereign blockchain based identity system which will be created under the umbrella of a public private partnership program called “ID2020”.
“This project represents meaningful progress towards accessible, powerful identity for the people in our world. If successful, we will enfranchise a significant portion of the global population that was previously disenfranchised and democratize access to the rapidly evolving global financial system,” said Sam Cassatt, Chief Strategy Officer of ConsenSys.
The consortiums announcement was then formally solidified at the United Nations ID2020 conference in New York earlier this month in front of all of the worlds current UN members, private companies and Government agencies who had all convened to discuss the problem of identity in the world.
The consortiums solution is based on a platform which they call the “uPort Identity Solution” (uIS) which integrates uPorts decentralised, blockchain based, reputation and transactional security system with their identity creation and management system.
“I’m very excited about this collaboration, which promises to radically expand the reach and user base of self-sovereign digital identity systems. With this project we are taking a big step towards empowering people who suffer due to the lack of identity, as well as streamlining the fragmented identity systems in our modern society,” said Christian Lundkvist, lead software architect at uPort.
Under the scheme, for the more than 2 billion people in the world who don’t have state issued ID, or any other form of ID for that matter, they can have member of their community vouch for them and then once on the uIS platform – which is persistent and portable – they can use it to, for example, obtain a micro-loan on a blockchain lending platform and grow a small livelihood from there.
At the time of writing ConsenSys was building an additional platform titled “RepSys” which is aimed at allowing people and companies to vouch for the conduct of their counter parties and verify the data on the platform as they execute a range of transactions with each other – such as buying and selling, lending, borrowing and repaying, as well as collaborating on projects. Think of it as crowd sourcing on a global scale.
uIS, the consortium said, “serves as a container for reputational attributes like email addresses, Facebook URLs or state issued ID and identity providers like governments, banks and IT companies can cryptographically sign such attributes attesting to their validity using reputational attestations.” Additionally every user is in control of their personal information, referred to as “reputational attributes” and that the encrypted information can be selectively and granularly shared with targeted counter parties when the user deems it to his or her advantage.
“The massive increase in the usage of smartphones and the internet, combined with blockchain technology, offers a great opportunity to solve identity issues for everyone. Reliable digital identity and reputation will create trust in the digital world, which will fundamentally change the economy, and the lives of the people who use the platform. This collaboration is a great foundation to realize the necessary adoption of these tools, independent of the underlying technologies,” said Rouven Heck, product manager of uPort.
One potential major hurdle with the program, however, is how the UN and the consortium get governments to accept, or even adopt, uIS – a platform which might, in some cases, contravene some of their own sovereign programs.
“I like the idea and the possible disruption that a blockchain tool could offer and with the cryptographic toolset that the public blockchain uses we should have all the necessary parts to implement such a system,” says Manuela Krull-Mancinelli, a blockchain entrepreneur involved in the project.
“I think that the private key in time could replace your ID, just like a passport or other ID currently is. The difference is that the passport, drivers license, etc are issued by a government. Currently there is no official issuing party for private keys.”
Meanwhile Thomas McAlister, another prevalent blockchain entrepreneur, says that using the blockchain to solve the identity crisis which the world is facing could be a frictionless way to help end some of the historical discrimination that still exists – particularly against certain vulnerable groups – including stateless persons, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, migrants and the children of persons deprived of their liberty there will always be a need for alternative solutions that helps people re-claim their rightful identities.
To give you an example of the scale of the identity problem there are currently over 200 million under fives who have no identity. In the Americas 1.3 million births go unregistered each year and at least 6.5 million children don’t have a birth certificate.
The level of under-registration among children under 5 in the Americas is also an issue and it fell from 18 per cent to 7 per cent recently as different states took different measures to intervene. But under-registration is most prevalent in rural areas where babies are born in the communities, not in hospitals and in many cases involving children, non-registration leads to children being indoctrinated into slave labour, being arrested or subjected to human trafficking – among other human rights violations.
McAlister also points out that there is a problem with inflexible public registration policies, which are often systematically designed to exclude diversity. Registration systems are often defective because some countries lack proper national frameworks, have institutional flaws and budget constraints. To counter balance this though many current civil identification registries are good indicators for gauging the efficiency of the state and relevant authorities in particular.
“A core focus of (the program) is to provide and assist particular countries that currently have not got the resources or finances to capture the lost public. For example there is over 30% of the population of Peru who are not even on the government database. We are going to provide this network for free for the first time capture of those who have fallen through the cracks of the government networks in which they cannot reach,” says McAlister.