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Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI): the mother of all battles

Updated: Dec 15, 2021



In 2018, The UN called upon states to “[…] consider developing or maintaining and implementing adequate legislation […] that protects individuals against violations and abuses of the right to privacy, namely through the unlawful and arbitrary collection, processing, retention or use of personal data by individuals, governments, business enterprises and private organizations […]”[1]

Dystopian GAFAM

It appears that the GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) and the secret services of the free world have not been made aware of this statement. Nonetheless, the onset of Digital Identity based on Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs) such as blockchain might be a game-changer and might also give a credible alternative to the unruly siloed identities tied to proprietary services and fancy Apps. Indeed, most of the big money invested in the “general identity” grail is poured by greedy corporations like the GAFAM, and their ideal of freedom would offers the users a universal login for digital services they themselves provide. It is a bit like entrusting a millennial oak forest to an arsonist.

Owning your data is a basic Human Right

And it could bankrupt massive corporations such as Google which live off your streams of data production. Many cool DLT start-ups are working on processes such as encrypted data (Which is not the data itself) stored in a public tamper-proof blockchain which secures users’ information. The integrity of the system is secured by encryption protocols that allow the true owner of the data to access and manage her profile and history. Thus, it may provide new monetisation opportunities for her as the data is shared on a compensation basis and this user is only person who can access and manage her personal information. Imagine an institution or a company wishing to retrieve some of her data, she will grant that permission, subject to retribution, if she deems it necessary. At that point, her data will be securely decrypted and sent to the party which requested it.



Source: nec.com

As shown above, this data is retrievable from multi-layer encrypted decentralised networks, which have none of the centralised systems downsides that are in constant peril of being hacked (Remember Cambridge Analytica and other Facebook-driven scandals.) In addition, the user might refuse businesses and institutions access to sensitive data when the requesting parties are not fully trusted or do not need to be granted access to such information.

Obsolete business models

Since 2009 and the advent of the Genesis Block, the blockchain has literally opened the way to another dimension and the innovations that develop there far exceed what Satoshi could have imagined. One of them is certainly the transformation of parasitic business models that helped create the dystopian world of GAFAM. Thanks to SSI - provided it is implemented on public blockchains such as Bitcoin - it is possible to dream of a world without Big Data and without corporations which, for purely mercantile reasons, dream of a universe very similar to that of Minority report, the Spielberg movie. Indeed, thanks to Big Data and AI, the GAFAM have the means to find out what you think before you even think about it, using your personal data for free. Today, some say, their supremacy surpasses any form of control and it is literally impossible to stop them. The GAFAM are breaking the laws that ensure that fair competition exists in an open-market economy. But civil society can still react and fight these predatory business practices; it is still possible to dismantle these giants and break their power of control by reinstating harsh antitrust laws. But let's be reasonable, the chances of such a thing happening are slim. But SSI can provide an answer.

Self-Sovereign Identity at work

In principle, self-sovereign identity would allow users to control their multiple identities, access and update information (though, third party verification such as doctors, medical and academic institutions, etc., may be required.) Users can choose the information that they want to keep private and delete part of their identity if they wish to do so. Such a system would require interoperability, protection of users’ rights (i.e. sharing of data only with the consent of the user), independence of any platform or architecture, for organizations to access only what is needed. On the blockchain, these identities would have a long shelf live (Possibly, forever)[2].



Source: nec.com

Conclusion

SSI is in its infancy and a sound framework needs to take on board questions of privacy, interoperability and data ownership. The self-sovereign user has specific rights, obligations and limitations; they must be defined properly but not only by certain ideas and concepts around DLT such as transparency, immutability, decentralization, etc. “We need to have a profound understanding of the legal and philosophical conception and norms that govern identity in general. Once translated well into practice, DLT has the capacity to strengthen the rights of the individual by providing access to tools that enhance the individual’s agency as self-sovereign actor.”[3]

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