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

France Bans Judge Analytics, 5 Years In Prison For Rule Breakers


Artificial Lawyer: “In a startling intervention that seeks to limit the emerging litigation analytics and prediction sector, the French Government has banned the publication of statistical information about judges’ decisions – with a five year prison sentence set as the maximum punishment for anyone who breaks the new law.

Owners of legal tech companies focused on litigation analytics are the most likely to suffer from this new measure.

The new law, encoded in Article 33 of the Justice Reform Act, is aimed at preventing anyone – but especially legal tech companies focused on litigation prediction and analytics – from publicly revealing the pattern of judges’ behaviour in relation to court decisions.

A key passage of the new law states:

‘The identity data of magistrates and members of the judiciary cannot be reused with the purpose or effect of evaluating, analysing, comparing or predicting their actual or alleged professional practices.’ *

As far as Artificial Lawyer understands, this is the very first example of such a ban anywhere in the world.

Insiders in France told Artificial Lawyer that the new law is a direct result of an earlier effort to make all case law easily accessible to the general public, which was seen at the time as improving access to justice and a big step forward for transparency in the justice sector.

However, judges in France had not reckoned on NLP and machine learning companies taking the public data and using it to model how certain judges behave in relation to particular types of legal matter or argument, or how they compare to other judges.

In short, they didn’t like how the pattern of their decisions – now relatively easy to model – were potentially open for all to see.

Unlike in the US and the UK, where judges appear to have accepted the fait accompli of legal AI companies analysing their decisions in extreme detail and then creating models as to how they may behave in the future, French judges have decided to stamp it out….(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)”.

MegaPixels


About: “…MegaPixels is an art and research project first launched in 2017 for an installation at Tactical Technology Collective’s GlassRoom about face recognition datasets. In 2018 MegaPixels was extended to cover pedestrian analysis datasets for a commission by Elevate Arts festival in Austria. Since then MegaPixels has evolved into a large-scale interrogation of hundreds of publicly-available face and person analysis datasets, the first of which launched on this site in April 2019.

MegaPixels aims to provide a critical perspective on machine learning image datasets, one that might otherwise escape academia and industry funded artificial intelligence think tanks that are often supported by the several of the same technology companies who have created datasets presented on this site.

MegaPixels is an independent project, designed as a public resource for educators, students, journalists, and researchers. Each dataset presented on this site undergoes a thorough review of its images, intent, and funding sources. Though the goals are similar to publishing an academic paper, MegaPixels is a website-first research project, with an academic publication to follow.

One of the main focuses of the dataset investigations presented on this site is to uncover where funding originated. Because of our emphasis on other researcher’s funding sources, it is important that we are transparent about our own….(More)”.

Microsoft’s Open Notre Dame initiative calls for sharing of open data in restoration effort


Hamza Jawad at Neowin: “On April 15, a disastrous fire ravaged the famous Notre-Dame cathedral in France. In the wake of the episode, tech companies, such as Apple, announced that they would be donating to help in rebuilding efforts. On the other hand, some companies, like Ubisoft, took a different approach to support the restorations that followed.

A few days ago, Microsoft and Iconem announced the “Open Notre Dame” initiative to contribute towards the restoration of the ‘Lady of Paris’. The open data project is said to help gather and analyze existing documents on the monument, while simultaneously producing and sharing its 3D models. Today, the company has once again detailed the workings of this initiative, along with a call for the sharing of open data to help quicken the restoration efforts….

GitHub will host temporal models of the building, which can then be easily shared to and accessed by various other initiatives in a concerted effort to maintain accuracy as much as possible. Many companies, including Ubisoft, have already provided data that will help form the foundation for these open source models. More details regarding the project can be obtained on the original blog post….(More)”.

Data Science for Local Government


Report by Jonathan Bright, Bharath Ganesh, Cathrine Seidelin and Thomas Vogl: “The Data Science for Local Government project was about understanding how the growth of ‘data science’ is changing the way that local government works in the UK. We define data science as a dual shift which involves both bringing in new decision making and analytical techniques to local government work (e.g. machine learning and predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and A/B testing) and also expanding the types of data local government makes use of (for example, by repurposing administrative data, harvesting social media data, or working with mobile phone companies). The emergence of data science is facilitated by the growing availability of free, open-source tools for both collecting data and performing analysis.

Based on extensive documentary review, a nationwide survey of local authorities, and in-depth interviews with over 30 practitioners, we have sought to produce a comprehensive guide to the different types of data science being undertaken in the UK, the types of opportunities and benefits created, and also some of the challenges and difficulties being encountered.

Our aim was to provide a basis for people working in local government to start on their own data science projects, both by providing a library of dozens of ideas which have been tried elsewhere and also by providing hints and tips for overcoming key problems and challenges….(More)”

Belgium’s democratic experiment


David van Reybrouck in Politico: “Those looking for a solution to the wave of anger and distrust sweeping Western democracies should have a look at an experiment in European democracy taking place in a small region in eastern Belgium.

Starting in September, the parliament representing the German-speaking region of Belgium will hand some of its powers to a citizens’ assembly drafted by lot. It’ll be the first time a political institution creates a permanent structure to involve citizens in political decision making.

It’s a move Belgian media has rightly hailed as “historic.” I was in parliament the night MPs from all six parties moved past ideological differences to endorse the bill. It was a courageous move, a sign to other politicians — who tend to see their voters as a threat rather than a resource — that citizens should be trusted, not feared, or “spun.”

Nowhere else in the world will everyday citizens be so consistently involved in shaping the future of their community. In times of massive, widespread distrust of party politics, German-speaking Belgians will be empowered to put the issues they care about on the agenda, to discuss potential solutions, and to monitor the follow-up of their recommendations as they pass through parliament and government. Politicians, in turn, will be able to tap independent citizens’ panels to deliberate over thorny political issues.

This experiment is happening on a small scale: Belgium’s German-speaking community, the country’s third linguistic region, is the smallest federal entity in Europe. But its powers are comparable with those of Scotland or the German province of North Rhine-Westphalia, and the lessons of its experiment with a “people’s senate” will have implications for democrats across Europe….(More)”.

The EU Wants to Build One of the World’s Largest Biometric Databases. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


Grace Dobush at Fortune: “China and India have built the world’s largest biometric databases, but the European Union is about to join the club.

The Common Identity Repository (CIR) will consolidate biometric data on almost all visitors and migrants to the bloc, as well as some EU citizens—connecting existing criminal, asylum, and migration databases and integrating new ones. It has the potential to affect hundreds of millions of people.

The plan for the database, first proposed in 2016 and approved by the EU Parliament on April 16, was sold as a way to better track and monitor terrorists, criminals, and unauthorized immigrants.

The system will target the fingerprints and identity data for visitors and immigrants initially, and represents the first step towards building a truly EU-wide citizen database. At the same time, though, critics argue its mere existence will increase the potential for hacks, leaks, and law enforcement abuse of the information….

The European Parliament and the European Council have promised to address those concerns, through “proper safeguards” to protect personal privacy and to regulate officers’ access to data. In 2016, they passed a law regarding law enforcement’s access to personal data, alongside General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR.

But total security is a tall order. Germany is currently dealing with multipleinstances of police officers allegedly leaking personal information to far-right groups. Meanwhile, a Swedish hacker went to prison for hacking into Denmark’s public records system in 2012 and dumping online the personal data of hundreds of thousands of citizens and migrants….(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)”.