Digital Economy

Anchors and Rails of a Digital Nation – Forging Self Sovereign Identity in the Age of the Blockchain

Digital Government Roadmap 2025

The keystone foundation for a digital nation is the online capability of the government – ‘Digital Government’.

With regards to the goal of Canada becoming the world’s leading digital nation, it is especially pertinent to highlight that as they reported in 2004, the nation led as the world’s number one at that time, in the field of E-Government, the precursor to Digital Government.

To regain this leadership position Canada has set itself an ambition of:

Digitize all public-facing government services so they are accessible by web and mobile phone and available behind a unified login system by 2025.

A number of technologies, from Cloud computing through AI, will play an important role in achieving that goal, with the central linchpin being Digital Identity. It will make possible the described unified login system, among other core capabilities that provide the keystone foundation for an entirely digital nation.

What is Self Sovereign Identity?

The critical role of Identity is easy to quantify – It is the keystone technology required to achieve the described ‘unified login system’.

Government programs like Gov.UK Verify are the early steps to better join up government systems via Identity as the common mechanism, so that access to online government services is much smoother and quicker.

Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) is the cutting edge evolution of Digital Identity technologies and architecture to underpin and enable such government ID systems.

As the name suggests the key principle is that Identity systems are not operated centrally by one organization, but rather the user themselves are in control of their own Digital Identity and personal data.

Sovrin provide this introductory article explaining SSI – They are central to this trend, operating the membership organization, a collection of ‘stewards’, who work together to ensure the integrity of the network much in the same way DNS is regulated. Via his blog tech industry luminary Phil Windley describes their launch.

One of Canada’s foremost experts in the field Tim Bouma identifies the current landscape of Government Identity systems in Canada in his blog Canada: Enabling Self-Sovereign Identity, highlighting how many are implementing similar approaches to the UK’s Verify system in terms of centralized or federated models, with SSI adoption being at the very early stage, and in another blog articulates a vision of how this will provide for the ‘Anchors and Rails of a Digital Nation‘.

The Decentralized Identity Metasystem

The profound impact the technology will have goes well beyond just public sector IT systems, it represents the most significant evolution of the Internet since DNS, enabling a similar global addressing system but for people and their data. In the same way DNS is implemented through a system of registrars and administered via ICANN, so a similar system will be grown to scale and manage a global network of decentralized identities.

The growing adoption of SSI will form what visionary Phil Windley describes as an “Identity Metasystem“, a global addressing system akin to what DNS facilitates for web domains but for user data, with the required governance administered by the Sovrin network.

In essence it represents a wholesale ‘upgrade’ to the Internet itself, such that these powerful features are built right into it, in the same way HTTP is the common protocol for sharing web information. For example as Namecoin describes the DNS is the current backbone identity system, it translates domain names into IP addresses. It works very effectively but it’s really quite an old technology and thus is ideal for this type of upgrade.

Brave New Coin writes about how it will enable what the whole Internet has been calling for, entirely user-centric data portability.

Users want the same frictionless experience and control of how their data is used with each and every organization they interact with, from governments through social media sites. An Identity Metasystem will achieve this through a generalized evolution of the Internet to this end.

The Paypers reports on Identity experts defining this as a new layer of the Internet:

“The current Open Systems Interconnection model (OSI) of the internet stack has 7 layers, 1) Physical, 2) Data Link, 3) Network, 4) Transport, 5) Session, 6) Presentation and then 7) Application. SSI technologies are so fundamentally new that they create a whole new layer just for individuals and users — this is called Layer 8. In this layer, identifiers are managed and owned by individuals and companies. Verifiable credentials can be issued to the identifiers, which can then be shared with any number of services they might interact with.”

Key open standards include the W3C’s ‘DID’ specification: Decentralized Identifiers, explained in this Evernym webinar.

At a superficial level, a decentralized identifier (DID) is simply a new type of globally unique identifier. But at a deeper level, DIDs are the core component of an entirely new layer of decentralized digital identity and public key infrastructure (PKI) for the Internet.

Identity in the Age of the Blockchain

An explosive field of potential lies in the intersection with the Blockchain. In his Reboot the Web of Trust presentation Christopher Allen defines this headline theme of Forging self-sovereign identities in the age of the blockchain.

In particular, at 6m50s he describes how the Indian identity scheme ‘Aadhaar’, a centralized government program, violates over a decade of first-world Identity best practices, with few laws against profiling, discrimination and abuse by law enforcement.

To avoid these pitfalls Allen says a key objective was to utilize the same tools used to protect buyers, sellers, traders and auctioneers to protect the helpless, documenting these principles into his defining white paper The Path to Self-Sovereign Identity, which was presented to the United Nations.

Blockstack offers this proposed definition of Blockchain IdentityA blockchain identity (or blockchain ID) is a generic term used to refer to any identity on the blockchain. Users can have one blockchain identity or many and can register them just like one would register domain names or accounts on Facebook or Twitter.

In his blog Paul Payam Almasi describes the key relationship to and the role the Blockchain will play, noting a key industry insight:

“As cryptocurrency exchanges like Binance and Coinbase begin to onboard more and more users, they will have the incredible luxury of linking someone’s off chain identity with their blockchain identity. This creates a perfect onramp towards a self sovereign identity model.”

In their guide SearchSecurity highlights:

“In all models of identity management, a digital identity requires identifiers, which ensure the user is who they say they are. However, with self-sovereign identity, identifiers do not need an intermediary. This means that a user’s self-sovereign identity can be registered to a claim, such as a block on a blockchain.”

Canada’s Global Opportunity

The opportunity and real potential for Canada to become the world leader in the field of SSI is demonstrated through the local expertise and pioneering projects that are well ahead of anything being done elsewhere.

ACE

Led by visionary Mike Brown they are building ‘ACE’, the Alberta Credential Ecosystem, a local collaboration of organizations beginning to adopt SSI and achieve integrated services through sharing SSI credentials.

BC Orgbook

British Columbia’s OrgBook acts as a digital marketplace, matching organizations applying for permits to those who issue them, verifying the integrity of that process through Self-Sovereign Identity methods.

Leading Canada’s Blockchain Revolution

Don Tapscott is the original Digital Economy guru, literally writing the book. Fast forward twenty five years and Don is still charting the future, a path that could lead Canada to becoming the world’s leading digital nation.

In 2016 Don published the Blockchain Revolution, describing how this technology innovation represents nothing less than the second generation of the internet and holds the potential to transform money, business, government and society.

These exemplar case studies demonstrate how Canada not only has the vision but also the engineering capability to pioneer this staggering level of digital transformation and ‘Lead Canada’s Blockchain Revolution‘.

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