Everyday billions of people interact with the internet. They access websites, share information, learn, make purchases, sell things, email, call home, and so on. It happens on the internet while the internet is not ‘owned’ by anyone. There are big actors who play influential roles on the internet like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Alibaba and so on, but they don’t ‘own’ it.
The internet is nowhere and everywhere. It is decentralised. Simplistically there is no single off switch. This does not mean there are no rules, because there are (see the W3C). The internet works because of standards and protocols that underpin it. Things like HTTP and IP protocols, URLs, domains, and so on. The W3C is a global community which convenes people to agree on and update standards, protocols, etc. Without these agreements, we would not have the global internet, it would likely be thousands of small networks. All siloed, not able to talk with each other. It would likely be difficult, but not impossible, to share data and information between networks.
And while you can’t point to something in a specific place and say ‘there, there’s the internet’, everything that is on the internet is located in a specific place. A specific place on the web (URL) and stored in a location. This is part of the rules. And this allows us to find and present information.
So what would happen if we bring this idea to identity? So what if our identity had digital location from which we could present information about us to those with whom we interact. The ‘rules’ could help us ‘prove’ that our birth certificate was issued by the government or UNICEF or whoever issues them in our country.
Humanitarian agencies are regularly struggling with how to share data, how to identify who is unique, while at the same time struggling for who ‘controls’ the unique identifier. NGOs appear to be confusing the ability to share data with the need to become the Facebook or Google of the sector. Sharing data is based on a few fundamentals mechanics. In the humanitarian sector, we are mostly wrestling with sharing sensitive data about individuals. Therefore, this links back to individuals, identity, and unique IDs. The fundamentals are an issuer, holder, verifier, and order/rules. (see Tim’s diagram and explanation for more)
So what would happen if humanitarian agencies had agreed standards about how to register a person digitally AND how to create a unique identifier. The unique identifiers could be held in a data trust (collectively managed by representatives of the local actors) or could be made public on a DLT or made publicly accessible so that other agencies could compare them to ensure they are unique (using the zero knowledge proof methodology).
This will not be easy and will be hard work. So let’s get on with it and do the work.