It’s time for digital self-sovereign identity
As digital IDs gain momentum, their shortcomings—and the need for digital, decentralized self-sovereign identity—become more apparent.
The day that residents no longer need to carry a traditional photo ID is closer than ever. That’s evident by a recent move by Maryland, which now allows residents to carry a digital version of their driver’s license or identification card in their Apple Wallet.
More than 20 states have considered, tested or launched digital versions of driver’s licenses. States and countries are attracted to the concept as a means of making services more accessible to more people. With a digital ID, users have easier access to banking services, government benefits and more.
But while digital IDs may offer residents convenience, they also open the flood gates for fraud and identity theft. That’s because to verify an individual’s information, agencies and businesses must collect, validate and store massive amounts of personal information. These large caches of personal information are prime targets for cyberattacks.
That’s why more governments are moving toward decentralized self-sovereign identity. SSI solutions put residents in control of their own personal data and credentials, such as birth certificates and drivers’ licenses. SSI solutions make identifying information independently verifiable, thus eliminating the need for a government agency to house any sensitive data. Individuals decide how much information they share—and with whom they share it.
The benefits of SSI
A resident’s identifying credentials are required by government agencies to access different types of services. Consider, for instance, a mother applying for both childcare payment assistance and unemployment benefits. She must submit very similar—and extensive—personal information to two different agencies. Each agency must dedicate time, resources and staff to validate her information.
But an SSI is built on distributed ledger technology for better speed and security. As such, agencies can validate identities more quickly. Processing time is substantially reduced, and agencies do not have to allocate as many resources to the application intake and verification processes. Instead, resources can be shifted to the delivery of services. Agencies can provide residents with faster service, thereby enhancing and improving their experiences while keeping their information secure.
Complete control of data
Indeed, security and control over data is of paramount importance. With an SSI, residents can give explicit consent regarding who can use what pieces of data. They can allow all agencies to access it by default. Alternatively, they can initially allow access by one agency and manually approve access by a new agency as the need arises.
For example, that same mother applying for childcare and unemployment assistance may also have to enroll her children in the local public school system. Typically, she would need to upload a copy of her driver’s license and her children’s birth certificates, putting both her and her child’s personally identifiable information at risk.
With an SSI, the mother can initiate a secure, end-to-end transaction to validate only her home address and her child’s date of birth, which is all the school needs for enrollment. The information is never stored on the public ledger, and the school system never has to contact the department of motor vehicles or vital records to validate that the data provided is correct. The school can independently trust the validity of the information the mother provides.
The bottom line
Through the push for mobile driver’s licenses and other forms of digital ID, we’re seeing the tide flow in the right direction—one in which government is striving to digitize government services for the betterment of residents and agencies alike. But governments must think beyond one-off applications.
SSI is a better solution. Flexible and self-sovereign in nature, SSI can pave the way for government agencies to continue to innovate how they deliver citizen services. An SSI also makes it easier for citizens to use and access these services, and it allows citizens to maintain control over their personal information. Plus, the implementation of granular security measures to protect that data creates trusted networks between governments and the citizens they serve. Everyone wins.
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