The Digital Identity Series (part III): Self-Sovereign Identity

The sentiment of owning our personal Digital Identity – without the intervention of various online administrative authorities, is progressively growing within the online community. This is due to the fact that for decades, our digital trails have been scattered all over the internet. In reality, a majority of people would not be able to recall the countless occasions when they've registered with their personal information on various websites, with the assumption that their data would be secure. Moreover, if we considered the number of occasions where we asked Facebook to digitally represent us as we log into a website using our Facebook account, it would seem more than ideal to have some sort of control over the personal information we share online.

A perfect scenario would be one where users are in complete control of their digital identity, where the respect of privacy as a basic human need is duly enforced and where organizations and users can develop a new and true trust-based relationship. Enabling trust while preserving privacy, that is the vision of Self-Sovereign Identity.

Self-sovereign identity (or SSI) could be defined as a concept allowing users to control their credentials without being forced to request permission from an intermediary or centralized authority, further providing users with control over how their personal data is used and shared. Also, it provides more security against identity theft which, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, impacted over 170 million records in the U.S. alone in 2017. The global numbers are so astonishing that to this day we cannot accurately measure the impact. And despite billions of dollars invested in identity verification, there is still a demand for a trusted way to identify parties and secure exchange of information.

"Rather than just advocating for users to be at the center of the identity process, self-sovereign identity required users to be the rulers of their own identity" – Cristopher Allen, Blockstream Identity Specialist.

With #Blockchain technology, we are capable of achieving a cryptographically secure digital wallet that holds our credentials, can immediately prove our identity, and allow us to control what information is shared as well as who can have access to it.

Imagine a digital equivalent of your passport, driver's license or birth certificate, issued by a relevant authority, that could be used the same way you use your passport to travel or your driving license to rent a car. In this manner, such a digital equivalent could be used to validate one's identity and information. Companies like Hyperledger, Sovrin, and Jolocom, have been at the forefront of the mission to make self-sovereign identity a reality. With the use of their network, codes, and standards, they helped create a landscape of supporting open communities that allow users to privately and securely participate in online activities and build trust-based relationships at a peer-to-peer level.

The current user-centric design of digital identity, with interoperable entities having centralized control, is not enough anymore. "Rather than just advocating for users to be at the center of the identity process, self-sovereign identity required users to be the rulers of their own identity" – Cristopher Allen, Blockstream Identity Specialist. For people to be the rulers of their own identity, SSI proposes 10 principles:

  • Existence – User's right to independent existence

  • Control – User's right to control their identity

  • Access – User's right to access their own information

  • Protection – User's right to be protected

  • Consent – User's reserved right to use their identity

  • Persistence – Identities must be long-lived

  • Portability – Information and services about identity must be transportable

  • Interoperability – Identity should be as widely usable as possible

  • Minimization – Disclosure of claims must be minimized

  • Transparency – Systems and algorithms must be transparent

Although SSI offers a huge potential to transform the way people's digital information is verified, stored and shared, the rapid evolvement of world standards and the overall digital ecosystem suggest that there is much work left to be done in producing an ideal virtual world where one can truly own and control their digital identity.

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