Our memory is integral to reinforcing our identity but it is a mechanism that is equally unreliable. Each digital interaction we have leaves shreds of our identity that clasps strongly to the claims of history, precedent and community. But if we take a step back, do we truly have ownership of our digital personifications that reveals about ourselves more accurate and succinct than what we can physically remember?
Identity has been a pressing issue in different tenets of our society, irrespective of the digital sphere alone. Without physical documentation of identity, stateless individuals are stripped of their security and humanitarian rights, rendering them vulnerable to abuse and bereft at narrow opportunities. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 addresses identity, stating:
“By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration”.
Remedying security and privacy issues with regulations remains complex and are often dealt on a case-by-case basis. In 2014, the Argentine Supreme Court ruled in favor of search engines on the constitutional right to privacy arguing that liability must demonstrate that wrongdoing was committed. In short, it requires the reporting of data breaches to authorities which at present, many have no legal obligation to.
Currently, the data and assets we hold are reliant on big intermediaries who instill trust in the economy. They are responsible for enabling the authentication, identification of people, record keeping of information processes in businesses. With vital sensitive information dotted and consolidated only in centralized repositories, the changes brought upon by digital transformation only gives rise to a new-wave of attacks which harbors the same immemorial criminal risk.
Leaving de facto power within a centralized mechanism has handicapped individuals whether on a microscopic scale of revoking a profile and severing networks of communications to stifling the momentum of the global economy. Banks, for example, take time processing remittances, while taking a slice of monetary value. The banking system operates on affordability, further exacerbating marginalized groups from receiving these same opportunities.
Don Tapscott, Executive Chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute, describes the system as
“appropriating the largest of the digital age asymmetrically. We have wealth creation but we have growing social inequality.”
Self Sovereign Identity is loosely defined as the concept of when individuals or organisations have complete control or ownership over their digital identities. It reinforces the notion that human beings are the original source for their own identity rather than lending ourselves as a peg in other people’s administrative mechanisms.
The concept had previously been explained from a technical standpoint, though the shortcomings of defining the concept has deflected a well-rounded comprehension over the multi-faceted uses of the SSI experience. The notion of Digital Identity in technology remains inhibited and de-incentivizes stakeholders from considering newfound business models by standing in the shadows of the economic status quo.
Authenticated control over identity addresses ethics and human rights by default, offering security and efficiency without the intervention and interception of third-party intermediaries. Devolving power to the individual asserts permission over the extent of information they choose to reveal and its usages. A legal documentations are ‘verifiable credentials’ imperative in transactional relationships, which oftentimes are satiated by proving such documents exist. The implementation of SSI’s techological paradigm empowers individuals to monetize information, make informed decisions, and retain responsibility, all the while mitigating social disparities.
Christopher Allen’s Ten Principles sets foundational values to help visualize how SSI can strike a balance within the oxymoron of working in silos in the age of connectivity and open markets. It replaces technological insecurities by filling our internet footprint with ethics and our human rights objectives vis-a-vis to the continued reliability and potentiality rife in technology.
Existence — Users must have an independent existence.
Control — Users must control their identities.
Access — Users must have access to their own data
Transparency — Systems and algorithms must be transparent.
Persistence — Identities must be long-lived.
Portability — Information and services about identity must be transportable
Interoperability — Identities should be as widely usable as possible.
Consent — Users must agree to the use of their identity.
Minimization — Disclosure of claims must be minimized
Protection — The rights of users must be protected
The misuse of data disavows from our privacy and security rights where, in the absence of established law, the profiling, discrimination, abuses in collecting people’s data could propel into state-wide surveillance. By weaponizing identities against the powerless, the advent of such ID systems which pledges to include could instead warrant exclusion of the vast population.
Blockchain technology functions in the absence of a third party where information is crystallized on a global ledger spread. In practice, a transaction would be made available instantaneously across the globe forming a ‘block’. Attached to a chain of preceding immutable records across millions of computers, virtually nullifying the risk of hacking.
Instead of a centralized company which matches the customer to a vendor, transactions would be fairer by making the matter concern solely around the two parties with the same security. The built-in transparency in the technology holds receipts of agreements made between people, paving way for greater accountability in the digital landscape.
The material blockchain offers are valuable building blocks to achieve Self Sovereign Identity. Users are empowered to make informed decisions over disclosures of information in whole, in part or none at all on the basis that such documentation exists. The choice to opt-out data from any treatment and conservation by right to be forgotten or make corrections are data rights that would be systemically reinforced.
To rack up the potential instilled within the offers fashioned by the digital world, we must necessitate stronger fortitudes and confidence in our digital avatar knowing that it is within our command and possession. Instead of entrusting data to unknown platitudes offered by the middleman, technology needs to be galvanized by a democratised system where trust and security reigns unequivocally.
The promises of unfettered innovation which tow along fairness, openness, availability and accountability in digital services, cuts from the same cloth as having to work multilaterally and holistically for our goals to be realized. The World Economic Forum panel adopted the Presidio Principles to blueprint moral and social codes to ensure safety remains core in tomorrow’s technological design and infrastructure.
Vyjayanti T. Desai, the World Bank‘s program manager for Identification for Development, has lauded the venture.
“Inclusive and trusted digital identification systems are critical to enabling societies and to empower people,” Desai said.
“The World Bank is pleased to see the launch of this project from the Turing. It will deploy important research and build knowledge to support the adoption of identification systems, and can help prevent exclusion from economic and social opportunities.”
When digital experience is audited by our own human agency, it topples pre-existing inequalities that deeply affect marginalized groups. Demystifying SSI is the next step to arbitrating good within the tech echo chamber by allowing us fair compensation over our intellectual property. The incarnation of SSI in technology brings both wealth and prosperity into fruition while hard-wiring the system around democracy, enabling us to rewrite current power dynamics.
Placating these power dynamics underscores the profundity of human-centered designs (HCD) that upholds transparency and fairness in SSI architecture. Maintaining a critically engaged dialogue surrounding identity fosters more multilateralism and collaboration in the digital sphere while anchoring itself to a uniformed outlook and ideology of trust and fairness. By placing reliability and security at the helm of digital interaction, only then can technology venerate forward away from the shell of its former self.
Meetup, SSI, director. Explaining SSI to C Suite Executives, and Anyone Else for That Matter. YouTube, 28 Feb. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=GRfnie-5z4c&t=20s
Metadium. “Introduction to Self-Sovereign Identity and Its 10 Guiding Principles.” Medium, Metadium, 16 July 2019, https://medium.com/metadium/introduction-to-self-sovereign-identity-and-its-10-guiding-principles-97c1ba603872
Nash, Jim. “National Digital IDs Are Essential, but Can They Be Made Secure?” Biometric Update, BiometricUpdate.com, 21 June 2020, www.biometricupdate.com/202005/national-digital-ids-are-essential-but-can-they-be-made-secure
“State of Privacy Argentina.” Privacy International, https://privacyinternational.org/state-privacy/57/state-privacy-argentina#:~:text=Surveillance%20case%20law&text=Recent%20cases%20involving%20Google%20and,the%20constitutional%20right%20to%20privacy
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TED, director. How the Blockchain Is Changing Money and Business | Don Tapscott. YouTube, 16 Sept. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pl8OlkkwRpc
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Wang, Fennie, and Primavera De Filippi. “Self-Sovereign Identity in a Globalized World: Credentials-Based Identity Systems as a Driver for Economic Inclusion.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 20 Dec. 2019, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fbloc.2019.00028/full
Tevy Kuch | Journalist | University of Sheffield
An international bachelors student with deep-founded interests in technology, blockchain, journalism and politics. Have past experiences with coding in python and digital 3D modelling. Currently blogging and writing freelance on various platforms. Contact : firstname.lastname@example.org