Join Jonathan Reichental for an in-depth discussion in this video Identity management and blockchain, part of Blockchain: Beyond the Basics.
- What makes blockchain technology so compelling is that it has broad disruptive applications. We've already seen many potential uses in several industries. One of the most exciting and promising opportunities is identify management. It's an important societal, political, economic and computer science issue. But a foolproof method of proving one's identity has been an elusive goal. Sure, systems require users to register their personal details, new credit and debit cards have embedded chips, and organizations use many other methods to try to authenticate identity.
But there are few checks and balances that work to ensure 100% integrity. Governments have provided multiple mechanisms for identity management, from passports to identity cards. All have ultimately failed as forgery-proof methods, with the rare exception of Estonia which had the unique opportunity to build digital identity from the ground up when it became independent in 1991. The reality is a world replete with identity theft and fraud.
In our digital world, the need for robust identity management has never been more urgent. If we can do it, we'd significantly reduce risk and open up many new opportunities for innovation. Might the blockchain offer that solution? The city of Zug in Switzerland has become the first to offer its citizens digital identity. They consider it a type of digital passport for variety of applications in the city. Eventually, they hope to use it for online voting.
It's not based on a lookup against essential database at city hall. Instead, identities are stored in the blockchain. In this instance, the system is based on Ethereum using a decentralized app called uPort. According to its original creators' consensus, uPort is an opensource software project to establish a global unified sovereign identity system for people, businesses, organizations, devices and bots.
It's made up of four components. First is a mobile application, essentially a mobile identity key. Second is a set of opensource developer libraries. These enable integrations of uPort with other decentralized apps and with traditional digital service providers. Third are smart contracts which are software code that runs on top of the blockchain. These uPort smart contracts include access control, account recovery, and storage of contacts.
Finally, the fourth component are developer tools. These are technical and educational resources for easily integrating the uPort platform with the solution. Another implementation is a product called Civic. Civic is an app that uses decentralized architecture with the blockchain and biometrics on the mobile device to prove identity. It doesn't require a username, password, third-party authenticator, or physical hardware token.
So how does it work? After a user downloads the app, she completes an identity validation process that is customized for a particular business use. Let's say a business requires a driver's license for authentication. The user scans the driver's license, and it's validated by Civic's validation services. That information is hashed, and an immutable entry is made in the blockchain. The original personally-identifiable information can be deleted from the device and from Civic's servers.
When the user interacts with this business, it requires minimal information because the credentials have already been established and can be authenticated against the blockchain transaction. No private information is transmitted between the user and the business. As the Civic ecosystem of business providers grows, they can trust each other's validation method, thus not requiring additional validation. For example, if the validation for the passport (mumbles) is accepted, the driver's license authority may find that acceptable and not require additional validation.
There are many players in this space. Others include Block Auth that enables users to own and operate their own identity register. There's Bitnation which has created a blockchain-based solution for identity that includes a passport and a marriage certificate. Finally, there is Identifi which has created a global address book of trusted and secure entries. Most of these are in the early stages of development, but pilots and prototypes look promising.
If blockchain-based identity management takes off, it would enable a whole host of new capabilities. Most compelling is the promise of online voting. This can be thought of in the government context, but also for voting within organizations and for entertainment services. Online voting would lower the cost of voting, address voter fraud, and introduce the idea of voting more frequently as opposed to two or every four years, as is the case in many jurisdictions.
We'll likely see blockchain based identity management across every sector of the economy. Imagine being able to securely access a person's entire health record in a timely fashion to save a life, or simply check the age of a person buying alcohol. And it won't just be humans doing this identity management. Machines will conducted via facial recognition and retina scanning. It would also be machine to machine. Self-driving cars will need to interact and negotiate with a multitude of other devices such as other vehicles and EV charging stations.
Every device could have a unique identity on the blockchain. I'm encouraged by what I see with blockchain-based identity management. System developers and designers need to seriously consider how to experiment with some of these solutions now.
- Blockchain basics
- Public and private keys
- How blockchain enables bitcoin
- Blockchain and the electrical grid
- Blockchain and identity management
- Risks of blockchain