SSIs combine control, portability, interoperability and protection to help agencies improve efficiencies, security and services while allowing citizens to be stewards of their data.
In September, Apple announced several states will let residents upload their driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs to the Wallet apps on their iPhones, Apple Watches and iPads. Earlier this year, Texas launched its Texas x Texas online portal, a single location for residents to access government services and connect with local agencies, and plans to make a TxT mobile app available for download in 2022. Both examples could be considered first steps toward self-sovereign identities (SSIs), where residents’ personally identifiable information is digitized and controlled by each individual, not a government agency.
SSIs are different from a physical form of identity, like a laminated driver’s license or a paper vaccination card. Physical IDs can contain a variety of information related to a person’s identity (birth date, home address, etc.). With a digital SSI, users control what and how much information they share and whom they share it with, and they can choose to provide only the information necessary to complete a transaction. No information is kept by the organization asking for identification, and everything remains in the user’s control.
Let’s take a closer look at how four guiding principles of SSI -- control, portability, interoperability and protection -- work together to help agencies improve efficiencies, security and services while allowing citizens to be stewards of their data.
Principle 1: Control over personal information
It’s not unusual for residents to interact with their local agencies multiple times every year. One person might renew a driver’s license, apply for a building permit and pay taxes in a single month. Each interaction requires signing into different portals, with different credentials, and filling out the same personal information, even if not all of that information is required for the transaction.
With an SSI, the individual only gives out what is required for that specific transaction and can dictate how that data is used. For example, a person applying for a liquor license for a business may not be required to provide home address. With an SSI, they don’t have to -- they can just provide whatever information is necessary to complete the transaction. The same goes for something like a vaccine passport -- there's no need for a Social Security number to be shared during the validation process. It's enough for a user to verify vaccine status -- no other personal details are required.
A state or local government that embraces SSIs is essentially empowering and entrusting its residents to maintain their information. The government only gets what it needs when it needs it, while residents keep control over their personal information.
Principle 2: Portability for mobile identification
Increasingly, consumers are forsaking their wallets in favor of storing information on their phones. Indeed, even some traditional wallet manufacturers have conceded that the days of the wallet might be numbered as people seek simpler and more secure ways of carrying forms of payment and proof of identity.
SSIs fit in well with this trend because they allow residents to store information in apps and have it with them at all times for easy verification. For instance, a state’s Department of Motor Vehicles might issue a digital driver’s license that gets stored on a user’s phone. That information gets tied to a blockchain with certain verification components. Any agency interacting with the user can immediately verify that the information it’s presented with is correct.
There’s no need for the resident to hunt around for a physical document or for an authenticator to try and discern if a person’s information is valid. Information is kept secure and portable.
Principle 3: Interoperability for better efficiency
Validating users’ information has always been a big challenge for state and local agencies. Processing a single request, whether it’s a business license, application for unemployment benefits or something simpler can often take weeks because every application must be individually examined and approved. Even when applications come from the same person via different logins, that information is not easily cross-referenced because it is stored in different databases. This requires each application to be treated independently.
SSIs allows agencies to validate user requests much more quickly through blockchain or a distributed ledger. Processing time can be reduced from weeks to hours, and requests can be handled much faster. Plus, increased efficiencies mean agency employees can spend more time answering residents’ questions or on other value-added tasks.
This is a win/win for agencies and residents. Agencies save time and gain efficiencies, while citizens receive faster responses and better customer service.
Principle 4: Protection for better security and lower costs
Over the past few years, there’s been a sharp rise in cyberattacks against state and local agencies. Industrious hackers understand agencies maintain voluminous amounts of personal data on residents and are using various tactics, particularly ransomware, to hold that data hostage.
But SSIs could potentially be game changers when it comes to state and local cyberattacks, simply because with SSIs, no information is stored in a centralized database. As such, SSIs could make agencies a less attractive target for hackers.
Not having to store information can also help agencies save money on cloud storage and database fees. This can be a boon as state and local governments examine their budgets for 2022 and continue to grapple with the financial fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Apple and Texas examples are just two obvious SSI use cases, but there are many others, including state-initiated vaccine passport programs. Undoubtedly the number of applications will grow, as residents continue to demand greater control over their information and expect the same expeditious service from their government as they receive from private companies. Agencies that have not yet considered SSIs would do well to begin exploring their options, as SSIs can help them meet these demands while improving organizational efficiencies.