Digital ArchitectureDigital Identity

British Columbia pioneers Self-Sovereign Identity – Building Digital Trust into the Web

Digital Identity refers to the various usernames and log-on procedures we use to interact with web sites and other digital services.

Michael Gorriz explains how Identity is a universal function, one that spans across government, banking and every other online service that we use.

Government identity programs, such as Gov.UK Verify, seek to leverage this interconnectedness through linking their authentication systems with others like banks to streamline the procedure from a users perspective, an approach known as ‘federated identity’.

Self-Sovereign Digital Identity

However some in the industry will describe this as an ‘old technology’ approach, and that the future is one of ‘Self-Sovereign Identity’, being pioneered by organizations such as the Sovrin Foundation.

As the diagram from this Tieto article describes it can be seen as the first step in a maturity journey, an improvement on from centralized model which means a duplicated identity procedure for each and every web site.

The article introduces Self-Sovereign Identity and positions it as the ultimate conclusion to this maturity journey.

Described in detail in this ID2020 white paper as the name suggests the primary feature is an identity mechanism owned and controlled by the user themselves, and introduced in this short presentation the fundamental principles are described as:

  • Every individual human being is the original source of their own Identity.
  • Identity is not an administrative mechanism for others to control.
  • Each individual is the root of their own identity, and central to its adminstration.
  • The role of names, citizenship, licences and other credentials should be distinct.

In short it places control and ownership of identity in the hands of the users themselves, not a third party like banks or the government, setting in place the keystone foundation for an entirely citizen-centric Digital Democracy.

Via his blog tech industry luminary Phil Windley describes the launch of the Sovrin Network, the world’s first self-sovereign identity (SSI) network, intended to implement the technologies and these principles.

Self-Sovereign Identity – Rebooting the Web of Trust

Doing so highlights critical features of the required technical design for the blueprint, most importantly that Blockchain alone is not the complete answer. In particular, as exemplified by the role of our ID documents, the other essential piece of the jigsaw is Digital Identity, and within that field the emerging trend of ‘Self-Sovereign Identity’.

Pioneered by the Sovrin Foundation this brings the decentralized web approach, rather than centralized, to the technologies we use to manage our digital identities, sign in to web sites, enable data sharing and so on. They combine and implement this architecture with Blockchain through their Hyperledger ‘Indy‘ project, a code base that enables creating and managing decentralized, self-sovereign identities using distributed ledgers.

IBM joined Sovrin and their expert Dan Gisolfi explains the terminology and provides an overview of this ecosystem operates.

In this blog he explains how this technology combination enables “Trust Chains”, the core building block of the new Digital Economy now being built atop the first generation Internet, the “The Second Digital Age” Alexander Tapscott describes in the featured video.

British Columbia

An especially helpful primer to this technology is offered through this webinar (below) from John Jordan of the British Columbia ID team, one of the first governments to pioneer adoption, which describes it from a practical, day to day value point of view, in terms of how it might be adopted by governments for functions like online drivers licence services.

Particularly noteworthy points include:

  • Enacting the legislation required to underpin the technology framework for Identity-enabled digital services.
  • How previous Identity approaches (the “old technology”) resulted in semi-digital versions of the offline paper-based process, resulting in yet more multiple online accounts, an effect greatly exasperated by the many levels of government citizens must interact with to complete one process (eg. business permits etc.)
  • A Continuous Integration capability enabled by RedHat Openshift-based Government as a Platform architecture.
  • Starting off with a proof-of-concept to trial key technologies like the Blockchain, in conjunction with DIACC and based on an early version of the Hyperledger Fabric.
  • How the key is to approach design models as an Ecosystem, the ‘Decentralized Identity Solar System’.
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