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EU Panel Discusses How Blockchain can Help Develop Digital Identification Systems – EU Parliament

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EU Panel Discusses How Blockchain can Help Develop Digital Identification Systems – EU Parliament

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Andreas Constantinidies, Ashley Fox, Andrea Servida, Andreas Ebert, Nicole Sandler Discuss Digital Identity at Blockchain for Europe Summit (EU Parliament)

HIGHLIGHTS

  • One of the biggest hurdles that digital identity has had to combat is the notion of whether an individual’s data will be safely stored anywhere other than in government archives
  • Blockchain is immutable and unhackable – making sure individuals data is more secure
  • Putting the data owner in control, allows them to give, read and write access to only those that they wish to give their information to

(ESG News) – In the United States, we put a lot of stock in our Social Security cards. Mailed shortly after birth, these cards and the nine digits printed on them are a crucial part of our identity, necessary to pay taxes, buy a house, and complete an array of life’s most important tasks. Yet in so many ways, the cards are arbitrary, important mostly because they represent an individual’s entry into the country’s system and can therefore be used as a neat and tidy way to keep tabs on citizens throughout their lives. 

But just as we can look back on history to 1935, before the advent of social security numbers, it seems possible to look forward to a time when social security numbers are not quite as central to our identity. That’s because digital identities could very well supplant the current view of identification, with blockchain technology undergirding the change. This was the theme of the conversation during the Blockchain for Digital Identity Panel held during the 2018 Blockchain for Europe event at the EU Parliament in Brussels. 

The panel discussion was moderated by Andreas Constantinides, Senior Director of APCO Worldwide. It featured Ashley Fox, an MEP serving on the Economic Affairs and Technology committees in the European Parliament; Andrea Servida, Head of Unit Digital Identity for the European Commission; Andreas Ebert, Regional Technology Officer for EU Microsoft; Nicole Sandler, VP of Fintech and Regtech for EMEA Barclays; Luc D’Hauwe, Global Solutions Consultant for VMWARE; and Carsten Stocker, CEO and Founder of Spherity. The forum was filmed live by the Traders Network Show, hosted by Matt Bird.  

Fox, a member of the EU Parliament, said digital identity represents an opportunity to advance how we think about current identification systems. 

“The metrics of first name, last name, date of birth, address seem a little thin to the data available. Huge amounts of data are collected from us every day, whether that is spending habits or the articles we’ve read. Arguably, this information will be able to provide a better idea of an individual’s identity than a name and address,” he said. “However, I think when we are met with technological advances, it is often difficult to move ourselves out of the box of the familiar and to look to see how the technology can improve what we already have, rather than the new opportunities it presents. 

“We need to adapt what ID is to more than what we were able to collect in the early 1900s,” he continued. “Digital ID on the blockchain offers this opportunity. Rather than just digitalizing existing identity, it can develop a system where identity can be created using the huge amounts of data collected. We can have new metrics, and this also has the potential for including a wider range of people who were excluded from previous IDs.”

Especially coming from a conservative member of Parliament, that sounds like major change. But in actuality, Fox and the rest of the panel were discussing a kind of synthesized version of a process that already exists. Essentially, all of our identities contain multitudes—we have nationalities, we belong to political parties, we have hobbies and health records. All of these aspects of our identities have some kind of digital footprint that, when taken together, create a complete picture of who we are. Blockchain could enable a digital identity that links all these facets of a person and puts people in control of their information, allowing them to carry that digital identity with them throughout their lives. It’s a concept known as “self-sovereign” ID, said Ebert, of Microsoft.  

“Blockchain is the root of trust in this decentralized, self-sovereign ID. There are multiple technologies available, but the foundational, root layer is…where blockchain is uniquely positioned to provide value.”

D’Hauwe, of VMWARE, presented a number of use cases. For instance, instead of having to show an ID that verifies a person is old enough to buy alcohol, a digital ID enabled by blockchain could, for example, create a payment system with that age verification built in. D’Hauwe also said a digital ID could allow companies to get instant verification of the accomplishments on a job applicant’s CV, without having to call university admissions offices or references. Thirdly, he said, a digital ID could be useful to refugees, who may not trust the ID administered by their country’s government, since that may be the very regime they are trying to flee. 

“It’s a different way of looking at an identity,” he said.

The ramifications could be huge, but the panelists agreed that the biggest hurdle might be actually getting the public on board. In fact, many people might not want to own and control their data. Sandler, of Barclays, said she looks no farther than her father to see this possibility. 

“If I said to my father ‘You can hold your data, and you’re going to be in total control of it, and if something goes wrong, essentially it might be on you,’ I think my father would say, ‘I don’t really want to do that.’” 

Fox said security and clarity could change people’s minds. Basically, he argued that people want assurance that data on the blockchain will be secure, and they want transparency in regard to where their data will be stored and who will pay to maintain it. In addition, he said, people want to be confident that a digital ID that runs on blockchain will be legally accepted. 

Servida, of the European Commission, which could play a critical role in regulating digital ID in Europe, acknowledged that changing people’s perspectives is key. 

“The change of culture and change of attitude is important,” he said. “Digital identity is going to be what speaks for us.”

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