Self-Sovereign Identity


sɛlf-ˈsɑvrən aɪˈdɛntəti

A decentralized identification mechanism that gives individuals control over what, when, and to whom their personal information is shared.

Identification document (ID) is a crucial part of every individual’s life, in that it is often a prerequisite for accessing a variety of services — ranging from creating a bank account to enrolling children in school to buying alcoholic beverages to signing up for an email account to voting in an election — and also a proof of simply being. This system poses fundamental problems, which a field report by the GovLab on Blockchain and Identity frames as follows:

“One of the central challenges of modern identity is its fragmentation and variation across platform and individuals. There are also issues related to interoperability between different forms of identity, and the fact that different identities confer very different privileges, rights, services or forms of access. The universe of identities is vast and manifold. Every identity in effect poses its own set of challenges and difficulties—and, of course, opportunities.”

A report published in New America echoed this point, by arguing that:

“Societally, we lack a coherent approach to regulating the handling of personal data. Users share and generate far too much data—both personally identifiable information (PII) and metadata, or “data exhaust”—without a way to manage it. Private companies, by storing an increasing amount of PII, are taking on an increasing level of risk. Solution architects are recreating the wheel, instead of flying over the treacherous terrain we have just described.”

SSI is dubbed as the solution for those identity problems mentioned above. Identity Woman, a researcher and advocate for SSI, goes even further by arguing that generating “a digital identity that is not under the control of a corporation, an organization or a government” is essential “in pursuit of social justice, deep democracy, and the development of new economies that share wealth and protect the environment.”

To inform the analysis on blockchain-based Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI), the GovLab report argues that identity is “a process, not a thing” and breaks it into a 5-stage lifecycle, which are provisioning, administration, authentication, authorization, and auditing/monitoring. At each stage, identification serves a unique function and poses different challenges.

With SSI, individuals have full control over how their personal information is shared, who gets access to it, and when. The New America report, summarizes the potential of SSI in the following paragraphs:

“We believe that the great potential of SSI is that it can make identity in the digital world function more like identity in the physical world, in which every person has a unique and persistent identity which is represented to others by means of both their physical attributes and a collection of credentials attested to by various external sources of authority.”

[…]

“SSI, in contrast, gives the user a portable, digital credential (like a driver’s license or some other document that proves your age), the authenticity of which can be securely validated via cryptography without the recipient having to check with the authority that issued it. This means that while the credential can be used to access many different sites and services, there is no third-party broker to track the services to which the user is authenticating. Furthermore, cryptographic techniques called “zero-knowledge proofs” (ZKPs) can be used to prove possession of a credential without revealing the credential itself. This makes it possible, for example, for users to prove that they are over the age of 21 without having to share their actual birth dates, which are both sensitive information and irrelevant to a binary, yes-or-no ID transaction.”

Some case studies on the application of SSI in the real world presented in the GovLab Blockchange website include a government-issued self-sovereign ID using blockchain technology in the city of Zug in Switzerland; a mobile election voting platform, secured via smart biometrics, real time ID verification and the blockchain for irrefutability piloted in West Virginia; and a blockchain based land and property transaction/registration in Sweden.

Nevertheless, on the hype of this new and emerging technology, the authors write:

“At their core, blockchain technologies offer new capacity for increasing the immutability, integrity, and resilience of information capture and disclosure mechanisms, fostering the potential to address some of the information asymmetries described above. By leveraging a shared and verified database of ledgers stored in a distributed manner, blockchain seeks to redesign information ecosystems in a more transparent, immutable, and trusted manner. Solving information asymmetries may turn out to be the real contribution of blockchain, and this—much more than the current enthusiasm over virtual currencies—is the real reason to assess its potential.

“It is important to emphasize, of course, that blockchain’s potential remains just that for the moment—only potential. Considerable hype surrounds the emerging technology, and much remains to be done and many obstacles to overcome if blockchain is to achieve the enthusiasts’ vision of “radical transparency.”

Further readings:

Allen, Christopher (2016). The Path to Self-Sovereign Identity. Coindesk. https://www.coindesk.com/path-self-sovereign-identity

Apostle, Julia (2018). Lessons from Cambridge Analytica: one way to protect your data. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/43bc6d18-2b6f-11e8-97ec-4bd3494d5f14

Graglia, Michael, Christopher Mellon, and Tim Robustelli (2018). The Nail Finds a Hammer: Self-Sovereign Identity, Design Principles, and Property Rights in the Developing World. New America. https://www.newamerica.org/future-property-rights/reports/nail-finds-hammer/

Identity Woman, Kaliya (2017). Humanizing Technology. Open Democracy. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/humanizing-technology/

Verhulst, Stefaan G. and Andrew Young (2018). On the Emergent Use of Distributed Ledger Technologies for Identity Management. The GovLab. https://blockchan.ge/fieldreport.html

Data & Policy: A new venue to study and explore policy–data interaction


Opening editorial by Stefaan G. Verhulst, Zeynep Engin and Jon Crowcroft: “…Policy–data interactions or governance initiatives that use data have been the exception rather than the norm, isolated prototypes and trials rather than an indication of real, systemic change. There are various reasons for the generally slow uptake of data in policymaking, and several factors will have to change if the situation is to improve. ….

  • Despite the number of successful prototypes and small-scale initiatives, policy makers’ understanding of data’s potential and its value proposition generally remains limited (Lutes, 2015). There is also limited appreciation of the advances data science has made the last few years. This is a major limiting factor; we cannot expect policy makers to use data if they do not recognize what data and data science can do.
  • The recent (and justifiable) backlash against how certain private companies handle consumer data has had something of a reverse halo effect: There is a growing lack of trust in the way data is collected, analyzed, and used, and this often leads to a certain reluctance (or simply risk-aversion) on the part of officials and others (Engin, 2018).
  • Despite several high-profile open data projects around the world, much (probably the majority) of data that could be helpful in governance remains either privately held or otherwise hidden in silos (Verhulst and Young, 2017b). There remains a shortage not only of data but, more specifically, of high-quality and relevant data.
  • With few exceptions, the technical capacities of officials remain limited, and this has obviously negative ramifications for the potential use of data in governance (Giest, 2017).
  • It’s not just a question of limited technical capacities. There is often a vast conceptual and values gap between the policy and technical communities (Thompson et al., 2015; Uzochukwu et al., 2016); sometimes it seems as if they speak different languages. Compounding this difference in world views is the fact that the two communities rarely interact.
  • Yet, data about the use and evidence of the impact of data remain sparse. The impetus to use more data in policy making is stymied by limited scholarship and a weak evidential basis to show that data can be helpful and how. Without such evidence, data advocates are limited in their ability to make the case for more data initiatives in governance.
  • Data are not only changing the way policy is developed, but they have also reopened the debate around theory- versus data-driven methods in generating scientific knowledge (Lee, 1973; Kitchin, 2014; Chivers, 2018; Dreyfuss, 2017) and thus directly questioning the evidence base to utilization and implementation of data within policy making. A number of associated challenges are being discussed, such as: (i) traceability and reproducibility of research outcomes (due to “black box processing”); (ii) the use of correlation instead of causation as the basis of analysis, biases and uncertainties present in large historical datasets that cause replication and, in some cases, amplification of human cognitive biases and imperfections; and (iii) the incorporation of existing human knowledge and domain expertise into the scientific knowledge generation processes—among many other topics (Castelvecchi, 2016; Miller and Goodchild, 2015; Obermeyer and Emanuel, 2016; Provost and Fawcett, 2013).
  • Finally, we believe that there should be a sound under-pinning a new theory of what we call Policy–Data Interactions. To date, in reaction to the proliferation of data in the commercial world, theories of data management,1 privacy,2 and fairness3 have emerged. From the Human–Computer Interaction world, a manifesto of principles of Human–Data Interaction (Mortier et al., 2014) has found traction, which intends reducing the asymmetry of power present in current design considerations of systems of data about people. However, we need a consistent, symmetric approach to consideration of systems of policy and data, how they interact with one another.

All these challenges are real, and they are sticky. We are under no illusions that they will be overcome easily or quickly….

During the past four conferences, we have hosted an incredibly diverse range of dialogues and examinations by key global thought leaders, opinion leaders, practitioners, and the scientific community (Data for Policy, 2015201620172019). What became increasingly obvious was the need for a dedicated venue to deepen and sustain the conversations and deliberations beyond the limitations of an annual conference. This leads us to today and the launch of Data & Policy, which aims to confront and mitigate the barriers to greater use of data in policy making and governance.

Data & Policy is a venue for peer-reviewed research and discussion about the potential for and impact of data science on policy. Our aim is to provide a nuanced and multistranded assessment of the potential and challenges involved in using data for policy and to bridge the “two cultures” of science and humanism—as CP Snow famously described in his lecture on “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” (Snow, 1959). By doing so, we also seek to bridge the two other dichotomies that limit an examination of datafication and is interaction with policy from various angles: the divide between practice and scholarship; and between private and public…

So these are our principles: scholarly, pragmatic, open-minded, interdisciplinary, focused on actionable intelligence, and, most of all, innovative in how we will share insight and pushing at the boundaries of what we already know and what already exists. We are excited to launch Data & Policy with the support of Cambridge University Press and University College London, and we’re looking for partners to help us build it as a resource for the community. If you’re reading this manifesto it means you have at least a passing interest in the subject; we hope you will be part of the conversation….(More)”.

Number of fact-checking outlets surges to 188 in more than 60 countries


Mark Stencel at Poynter: “The number of fact-checking outlets around the world has grown to 188 in more than 60 countries amid global concerns about the spread of misinformation, according to the latest tally by the Duke Reporters’ Lab.

Since the last annual fact-checking census in February 2018, we’ve added 39 more outlets that actively assess claims from politicians and social media, a 26% increase. The new total is also more than four times the 44 fact-checkers we counted when we launched our global database and map in 2014.

Globally, the largest growth came in Asia, which went from 22 to 35 outlets in the past year. Nine of the 27 fact-checking outlets that launched since the start of 2018 were in Asia, including six in India. Latin American fact-checking also saw a growth spurt in that same period, with two new outlets in Costa Rica, and others in Mexico, Panama and Venezuela.

The actual worldwide total is likely much higher than our current tally. That’s because more than a half-dozen of the fact-checkers we’ve added to the database since the start of 2018 began as election-related partnerships that involved the collaboration of multiple organizations. And some those election partners are discussing ways to continue or reactivate that work— either together or on their own.

Over the past 12 months, five separate multimedia partnerships enlisted more than 60 different fact-checking organizations and other news companies to help debunk claims and verify information for voters in MexicoBrazilSweden,Nigeria and the Philippines. And the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network assembled a separate team of 19 media outlets from 13 countries to consolidate and share their reporting during the run-up to last month’s elections for the European Parliament. Our database includes each of these partnerships, along with several others— but not each of the individual partners. And because they were intentionally short-run projects, three of these big partnerships appear among the 74 inactive projects we also document in our database.

Politics isn’t the only driver for fact-checkers. Many outlets in our database are concentrating efforts on viral hoaxes and other forms of online misinformation — often in coordination with the big digital platforms on which that misinformation spreads.

We also continue to see new topic-specific fact-checkers such as Metafact in Australia and Health Feedback in France— both of which launched in 2018 to focus on claims about health and medicine for a worldwide audience….(More)”.

EU countries and car manufacturers to share information to improve road safety


Press Release: “EU member states, car manufacturers and navigation systems suppliers will share information on road conditions with the aim of improving road safety. Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, agreed this today with four other EU countries during the ITS European Congress in Eindhoven. These agreements mean that millions of motorists in the Netherlands will have access to more information on unsafe road conditions along their route.

The data on road conditions that is registered by modern cars is steadily improving. For instance, information on iciness, wrong-way drivers and breakdowns in emergency lanes. This kind of data can be instantly shared with road authorities and other vehicles following the same route. Drivers can then adapt their driving behaviour appropriately so that accidents and delays are prevented….

The partnership was announced today at the ITS European Congress, the largest European event in the fields of smart mobility and the digitalisation of transport. Among other things, various demonstrations were given on how sharing this type of data contributes to road safety. In the year ahead, the car manufacturers BMW, Volvo, Ford and Daimler, the EU member states Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Spain and Luxembourg, and navigation system suppliers TomTom and HERE will be sharing data. This means that millions of motorists across the whole of Europe will receive road safety information in their car. Talks on participating in the partnership are also being conducted with other European countries and companies.

ADAS

At the ITS congress, Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen and several dozen parties today also signed an agreement on raising awareness of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and their safe use. Examples of ADAS include automatic braking systems, and blind spot detection and lane keeping systems. Using these driver assistance systems correctly makes driving a car safer and more sustainable. The agreement therefore also includes the launch of the online platform “slimonderweg.nl” where road users can share information on the benefits and risks of ADAS.
Minister Van Nieuwenhuizen: “Motorists are often unaware of all the capabilities modern cars offer. Yet correctly using driver assistance systems really can increase road safety. From today, dozens of parties are going to start working on raising awareness of ADAS and improving and encouraging the safe use of such systems so that more motorists can benefit from them.”

Connected Transport Corridors

Today at the congress, progress was also made regarding the transport of goods. For example, at the end of this year lorries on three transport corridors in our country will be sharing logistics data. This involves more than just information on environmental zones, availability of parking, recommended speeds and predicted arrival times at terminals. Other new technologies will be used in practice on a large scale, including prioritisation at smart traffic lights and driving in convoy. Preparatory work on the corridors around Amsterdam and Rotterdam and in the southern Netherlands has started…..(More)”.

Come to Finland if you want to glimpse the future of health data!


Jukka Vahti at Sitra: “The Finnish tradition of establishing, maintaining and developing data registers goes back to the 1600s, when parish records were first kept.

When this old custom is combined with the opportunities afforded by digitisation, the positive approach Finns have towards research and technology, and the recently updated legislation enabling the data economy, Finland and the Finnish people can lead the way as Europe gradually, or even suddenly, switches to a fair data economy.

The foundations for a fair data economy already exist

The fair data economy is a natural continuation of the former projects promoting e-services that were undertaken in Finland.

For example, the Data Exchange Layer is already speeding up the transfer of data from one system to another in Finland and in Estonia, the country where the system originated, and a system unique to just these two countries.

In May 2019 Finland also saw the entry into force of the Act on the Secondary Use of Health and Social Data, according to which the information on social welfare and healthcare held in registers may be used for purposes of statistics, research, education, knowledge management, control and supervision conducted by authorities, and development and innovation activity.

The new law will make the work of researchers and service developers more effective, as the business of acquiring a permit will take place through a one-stop-shop principle and it will be possible to use data from more than one source more readily than before….(More)”.

Open Data and the Private Sector


Chapter by Joel Gurin, Carla Bonini and Stefaan Verhulst in State of Open Data: “The open data movement launched a decade ago with a focus on transparency, good governance, and citizen participation. As other chapters in this collection have documented in detail, those critical uses of open data have remained paramount and are continuing to grow in importance at a time of fake news and increased secrecy. But the value of open data extends beyond transparency and accountability – open data is also an important resource for business and economic growth.

The past several years have seen an increased focus on the value of open data to the private sector. In 2012, the Open Data Institute (ODI) was founded in the United Kingdom (UK) and backed with GBP 10 million by the UK government to maximise the value of open data in business and government. A year later, McKinsey released a report suggesting open data could help unlock USD 3 to 5 trillion in economic value annually. At around the same time, Monsanto acquired the Climate Corporation, a digital agriculture company that leverages open data to inform farmers for approximately USD 1.1 billion. In 2014, the GovLab launched the Open Data 500,2the first national study of businesses using open government data (now in six countries), and, in 2015, Open Data for Development (OD4D) launched the Open Data Impact Map, which today contains more than 1 100 examples of private sector companies using open data. The potential business applications of open data continue to be a priority for many governments around the world as they plan and develop their data programmes.

The use of open data has become part of the broader business practice of using data and data science to inform business decisions, ranging from launching new products and services to optimising processes and outsmarting the competition. In this chapter, we take stock of the state of open data and the private sector by analysing how the private sector both leverages and contributes to the open data ecosystem….(More)”.

What can we learn from billions of food purchases derived from fidelity cards?


Daniele Quercia at Medium: “By combining 1.6B food item purchases with 1.1B medical prescriptions for the entire city of London for one year, we discovered that, to predict health outcomes, socio-economic conditions matter less than what previous research has shown: despite being of lower-income, certain areas are healthy, and that is because of what their residents eat!

This result comes from our latest project “Poor but Healthy”, which was published in the Springer European Physical Journal (EPJ) of Data Science this month, and comes with a @tobi_vierzwo’s stunningly beautiful map of London I invite all of you to explore.

Why are we interested in urban health? In our cities, food is cheap and exercise discretionary, and health takes its toll. Half of European citizens will be obese by 2050, and obesity and its diseases are likely to reach crisis proportions. In this project, we set out to show that fidelity cards of grocery stores represent a treasure trove of health data — they can be used not only to (e)mail discount coupons to customers but also to effectively track a neighbourhood’s health in real-time for an entire city or even an entire country.

In research circles, the impact of eating habits on people’s health has mostly been studied using dietary surveys, which are costly and of limited scale.

To complement these surveys, we have recently resorted to grocery fidelity cards. We analyzed the anonymized records of 1.6B grocery items purchased by 1.6M grocery store customers in London over one whole year, and combined them with 1.1B medical prescriptions.

In so doing, we found that, as one expects, the “trick” to not being associated with chronic diseases is eating less what we instinctively like (e.g., sugar, carbohydrates), balancing all the nutrients, and avoiding the (big) quantities that are readily available. These results come as no surprise yet speak to the validity of using fidelity cards to capture health outcomes…(More)”.


Living Labs As A Collaborative Framework For Changing Perceptions And Goals


Co-Val: “In the…Report on cross-country comparison on existing innovation and living labsLars Fuglsang and Anne Vorre Hansen from Roskilde University describe various applications of living labs to decision-making. The basic two examples are living labs as a collaborative framework for changing perceptions and goals and living labs as an ecosystem for policy innovation.

Living labs can involve a change in mindset and goals as expressed in one paper on public sector innovation labs (Carstensen & Bason, 2012). Carstensen and Bason (2012) report the important story of the Danish Mindlab (2002-2018) – a cross-governmental innovation lab involving public sector organisations, citizens and businesses in creating new solutions for society. They argue that innovation labs are designed to foster collaboration since labs are platforms where multiple stakeholders can engage in interaction, dialogue, and development activities.  Innovation needs a different approach than everyday activities and a change in mindset and culture shift of employees towards thinking more systematically about innovation. Mindlab’s methodologies are anchored in design thinking, qualitative research and policy development, with the aim of capturing the subjective reality experienced by both citizens and businesses in the development of new solutions. Carstensen and Bason (2012) list the following key principles of Mindlab: take charge of on-going renewal, maintain top management backing, create professional empathy, insist on collaboration, do – don’t just think, recruit and develop likeable people, don’t be too big, communicate.

Also, Buhr et al. (2016) show how living labs can be important for developing and implementing collective goals and creating new opportunities for citizens to influence public affairs. They describe two cases in two suburban areas (located in Sweden and Finland), where the living lab approach was used to improve the feeling of belonging in a community. In one of the two suburbs studied, a living lab approach was used to change the lightning on a pathway that seemed unsafe; and in the other case, a living lab approach was used to strengthen the social community by renovating a kiosk and organizing varied activities for the citizens. Both living labs motivated the residents to work on societal goals for sustainability and choose solutions. The study indicates that a living lab approach can be used for gaining support for change and thereby increasing the citizens’ appreciation of a local area. Further, living labs may give citizens a feeling that they are being listened to. Living labs can thus create opportunities for citizens to develop the city together with municipal policy-makers and other stakeholders and enable policy-makers to respond to the expressed needs of the citizens….(More)”

Nagging misconceptions about nudge theory


Cass Sunstein at The Hill: “Nudges are private or public initiatives that steer people in particular directions but that also allow them to go their own way.

A reminder is a nudge; so is a warning. A GPS device nudges; a default rule, automatically enrolling people in some program, is a nudge.

To qualify as a nudge, an initiative must not impose significant economic incentives. A subsidy is not a nudge; a tax is not a nudge; a fine or a jail sentence is not a nudge. To count as such, a nudge must fully preserve freedom of choice.

In 2009, University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler and I co-wrote a book that drew on research in psychology and behavioral economics to help people and institutions, both public and private, improve their decision-making.

In the 10 years since “Nudge” was published, there has been an extraordinary outpouring of new thought and action, with particular reference to public policy.

Behavioral insight teams, or “nudge units” of various sorts, can be found in many nations, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, Japan and Qatar.

Those teams are delivering. By making government more efficient, and by improving safety and health, they are helping to save a lot of money and a lot of lives. And in many countries, including the U.S., they don’t raise partisan hackles; both Democrats and Republicans have enthusiastically embraced them.   

Still, there are a lot of mistakes and misconceptions out there, and they are diverting attention and hence stalling progress. Here are the three big ones:

1. Nudges do not respect freedom. …

2. Nudges are based on excessive trust in government...

3. Nudges cannot achieve a whole lot.…(More)”.

How Technology Could Revolutionize Refugee Resettlement


Krishnadev Calamur in The Atlantic: “… For nearly 70 years, the process of interviewing, allocating, and accepting refugees has gone largely unchanged. In 1951, 145 countries came together in Geneva, Switzerland, to sign the Refugee Convention, the pact that defines who is a refugee, what refugees’ rights are, and what legal obligations states have to protect them.

This process was born of the idealism of the postwar years—an attempt to make certain that those fleeing war or persecution could find safety so that horrific moments in history, such as the Holocaust, didn’t recur. The pact may have been far from perfect, but in successive years, it was a lifeline to Afghans, Bosnians, Kurds, and others displaced by conflict.

The world is a much different place now, though. The rise of populism has brought with it a concomitant hostility toward immigrants in general and refugees in particular. Last October, a gunman who had previously posted anti-Semitic messages online against HIAS killed 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Many of the policy arguments over resettlement have shifted focus from humanitarian relief to security threats and cost. The Trump administration has drastically cut the number of refugees the United States accepts, and large parts of Europe are following suit.

If it works, Annie could change that dynamic. Developed at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, Lund University in Sweden, and the University of Oxford in Britain, the software uses what’s known as a matching algorithm to allocate refugees with no ties to the United States to their new homes. (Refugees with ties to the United States are resettled in places where they have family or community support; software isn’t involved in the process.)

Annie’s algorithm is based on a machine learning model in which a computer is fed huge piles of data from past placements, so that the program can refine its future recommendations. The system examines a series of variables—physical ailments, age, levels of education and languages spoken, for example—related to each refugee case. In other words, the software uses previous outcomes and current constraints to recommend where a refugee is most likely to succeed. Every city where HIAS has an office or an affiliate is given a score for each refugee. The higher the score, the better the match.

This is a drastic departure from how refugees are typically resettled. Each week, HIAS and the eight other agencies that allocate refugees in the United States make their decisions based largely on local capacity, with limited emphasis on individual characteristics or needs….(More)”.