How Blockchain Could Give Everyone a Legal ID

Digital identification can replace birth certificates and other legal documents

3 March 2017

Nearly a fifth of the world’s population—about 1.5 billion people—do not have official identification documentation such as a birth certificate or social security card, including 230 million children younger than 5, according to the United Nations. Without a way to prove identity, it is more difficult to protect people’s human rights and to offer them the same opportunities as those who do have such documents. Refugees, for example, can be exploited, and undocumented children are more vulnerable to trafficking schemes. One way to solve the problem is to use blockchain technology to create a legal-ID system.

WHY BLOCKCHAIN?

My colleagues and I have proposed the concept of the Humanized Internet, which includes a so-called identity-as-a-service, relying on the blockchain system. Blockchain offers an immutable, transparent, and distributed ledger that can provide a secure means of identifying every person on Earth. Think of blockchain as a universal, secure digital lockbox that could store information with your legal ID, such as property title, education certificates, and medical records, all in one place.

The owner of the documents could access the system via mobile phone, and the identity could be confirmed using the owner’s biometrics.

This system could be especially invaluable for those who are displaced due to a natural disaster or during war. With property damage and dislocation, the loss of legal documents is common. But with blockchain, no matter what the situation, identities would be preserved.

Moreover, blockchain could allow people to take better control of their information. A key advantage is not having to carry around forgeable paper documents that could be stolen, counterfeited, or lost—helping to eliminate identity theft.

SERVING THOSE IN NEED

My vision for how technology can benefit humanity emphasizes a strong sense of responsibility. We must make our digital world inclusive and learn from others about their needs as we define problems and explore proposed solutions. We must build ethics into the technology we develop by asking questions about how it could be used and why it is being created.

Once people have an identity on the blockchain system, they could then easily access other services not available to them without a legal ID, such as online banking and educational and job opportunities. In our view, blockchain can provide the “self-sovereign technology” we need for the 21st century.

My colleagues and I are working on a prototype of the Humanized Internet, and we welcome feedback from readers as well as support from the technical community to help us build it. To get involved, visit our website.

IEEE Senior Member Monique Morrow is a technology strategist and innovator. She is the former CTO of Cisco’s New Frontiers Engineering group and the first CTO of Cisco Services. She is a member of the IEEE Global Initiative for Ethical Considerations in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems executive committee and cochair of the group’s mixed reality committee. She is scheduled to speak at the “Beyond Fintech: Blockchain for Every Industry session on 10 March during the annual SXSW Interactive Festival—part of the IEEE Tech for Humanity Series.

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