DIDs & Trusts: Small, but Powerful Containers

by | Sep 18, 2019 | ICT4D, Identity |

Lego is a hot topic in our house at the moment; every waking hour our kids have outside of school and eating is spent with it. I, happily, join in. In one project we were searching for a particular piece for what felt like hours. And then my daughter asked, ‘Can we use this, like this, Dad?” It wasn’t the size or shape we had been looking for. But because of how she held it, we had a new idea. The piece was perfect if we rebuilt part of the project as by starting with it, we had many more options for the rest of the project. 20 minutes later we were finished and the sense of pride and joy on my daughter’s face was palpable for days.

Humanitarian agencies and many social organisations have been ‘guardians’ of vulnerable people’s data for decades, if not centuries. And yet, the vulnerable people have very little access to their data themselves so they can use the data how they wish. The concept of decentralised identities is to help with this problem as it enables information about the person to be in one digital place (a ‘wallet’) and access to the information is managed by the individual.

One of the challenges of decentralised or self-sovereign identity movement is the fact that smartphones and access to the internet are not ubiquitous. Or more simply put, inequality.

In the discussions around identity for all, one of the dilemmas has been where to host the digital wallet or personal data store (PDS) of the individual on behalf of that person. Obviously, hosting isn’t the problem, it’s the ‘on behalf of’ that is the challenge. Social organisations and humanitarian agencies could do this ‘hosting’ for individuals, but this means taking on the liability, the cost, and ensuring continuity of service. The continuity is an additional challenge given these organisations often experience small (or large) breaks in funding between projects or they can shut down, etc.

Enter the Data Trust, which I’ve written about a number of times recently. Data Trusts sit ‘outside’ of existing agencies, can have a very narrow, well defined, and transparent scope, and the ‘beneficiaries’ have a say in how they act. Given all this, a Data Trust could be established in a community or location to host the wallets or PDSs of people who can not currently host themselves. The Trust can take on the liability for hosting, while the liability for accessing the wallets is shared by the individual and the wallet provider. The Trust has no political, financial, social interests to pursue other than the provision of hosting space for wallets and funding to keep going. The funding required for continued existence would be quite minimal and likely easily secured from multiple sources.

The Data Trust does not solve all problems in this space, but it could solve a small, distinct one which then frees up multiple solutions for the other problems. We may need to remake a few things, like we did in the lego project, but it likely won’t take long.

Photo by James Pond

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