Rohingya turn to blockchain to solve identity crisis

Skot Thayer and Alex Hern at the Guardian: “Rohingya refugees are turning to blockchain-type technology to help address one of their most existential threats: lack of officially-recognised identity.

Denied citizenship in their home country of Myanmar for decades, the Muslim minority was the target of a brutal campaign of violence by the military which culminated a year ago this week. A “clearance operation” led by Buddhist militia sent more than 700,000 Rohingya pouring over the border into Bangladesh, without passports or official ID.

The Myanmar government has since agreed to take the Rohingya back, but are refusing to grant them citizenship. Many Rohingya do not want to return and face life without a home or an identity. This growing crisis prompted Muhammad Noor and his team at the Rohingya Project to try to find a digital solution.

“Why does a centralised entity like a bank or government own my identity,” says Noor, a Rohingya community leader based in Kuala Lumpur. “Who are they to say if I am who I am?”

Using blockchain-based technology, Noor, is trialling the use of digital identity cards that aim to help Rohingya in Malaysia, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia access services such as banking and education. The hope is that successful trials might lead to a system that can help the community across southeast Asia.

Under the scheme, a blockchain database is used to record individual digital IDs, which can then be issued to people once they have taken a test to verify that they are genuine Rohingya….

Blockchain-based initiatives, such as the Rohingya Project, could eventually allow people to build the network of relationships necessary to participate in the modern global economy and prevent second and third generation “invisible” people from slipping into poverty. It could also allow refugees to send money across borders, bypassing high transaction fees.

In Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is using blockchain and biometrics to help Syrian refugees to purchase groceries using a voucher system. This use of the technology allows the WFP to bypass bank fees.

But Al Rjula says privacy is still an issue. “The technology is maturing, yet implementation by startups and emerging tech companies is still lacking,” he says.

The involvement of a trendy technology such as blockchains can often be enough to secure the funding, attention and support that start-ups – whether for-profit or charitable – need to thrive. But companies such as Tykn still have to tackle plenty of the same issues as their old-fashioned database-using counterparts, from convincing governments and NGOs to use their services in the first place to working out how to make enough overhead to pay staff, while also dealing with the fickle issues of building on a cutting-edge platform.

Blockchain-based humanitarian initiatives will also need to reckon with the problem of accountability in their efforts to aid refugees and those trapped in the limbo of statelessness.

Dilek Genc, a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh who studies blockchain-type applications in humanitarian aid and development, saysif the aid community continues to push innovation using Silicon Valley’s creed of “fail fast and often,” and experiment on vulnerable peoples they will be fundamentally at odds with humanitarian principles and fail to address the political roots of issues facing refugees…(More)”.

The Global Council on Extended Intelligence

“The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) and the MIT Media Lab are joining forces to launch a global Council on Extended Intelligence (CXI) composed of individuals who agree on the following:

One of the most powerful narratives of modern times is the story of scientific and technological progress. While our future will undoubtedly be shaped by the use of existing and emerging technologies – in particular, of autonomous and intelligent systems (A/IS) – there is no guarantee that progress defined by “the next” is beneficial. Growth for humanity’s future should not be defined by reductionist ideas of speed or size alone but as the holistic evolution of our species in positive alignment with the environmental and other systems comprising the modern algorithmic world.

We believe all systems must be responsibly created to best utilize science and technology for tangible social and ethical progress. Individuals, businesses and communities involved in the development and deployment of autonomous and intelligent technologies should mitigate predictable risks at the inception and design phase and not as an afterthought. This will help ensure these systems are created in such a way that their outcomes are beneficial to society, culture and the environment.

Autonomous and intelligent technologies also need to be created via participatory design, where systems thinking can help us avoid repeating past failures stemming from attempts to control and govern the complex-adaptive systems we are part of. Responsible living with or in the systems we are part of requires an awareness of the constrictive paradigms we operate in today. Our future practices will be shaped by our individual and collective imaginations and by the stories we tell about who we are and what we desire, for ourselves and the societies in which we live.

These stories must move beyond the “us versus them” media mentality pitting humans against machines. Autonomous and intelligent technologies have the potential to enhance our personal and social skills; they are much more fully integrated and less discrete than the term “artificial intelligence” implies. And while this process may enlarge our cognitive intelligence or make certain individuals or groups more powerful, it does not necessarily make our systems more stable or socially beneficial.

We cannot create sound governance for autonomous and intelligent systems in the Algorithmic Age while utilizing reductionist methodologies. By proliferating the ideals of responsible participant design, data symmetry and metrics of economic prosperity prioritizing people and the planet over profit and productivity, The Council on Extended Intelligence will work to transform reductionist thinking of the past to prepare for a flourishing future.

Three Priority Areas to Fulfill Our Vision

1 – Build a new narrative for intelligent and autonomous technologies inspired by principles of systems dynamics and design.

“Extended Intelligence” is based on the hypothesis that intelligence, ideas, analysis and action are not formed in any one individual collection of neurons or code…..

2 – Reclaim our digital identity in the algorithmic age

Business models based on tracking behavior and using outdated modes of consent are compounded by the appetites of states, industries and agencies for all data that may be gathered….

3 – Rethink our metrics for success

Although very widely used, concepts of exponential growth and productivity such as the gross domestic product (GDP) index are insufficient to holistically measure societal prosperity. … (More)”.

If, When and How Blockchain Technologies Can Provide Civic Change

By Stefaan G. Verhulst and Andrew Young

The hype surrounding the potential of blockchain technologies– the distributed ledger technology (DLT) undergirding cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – to transform the way industries and sectors operate and exchange records is reaching a fever pitch.

Gartner Hype Cycle

Source: Top Trends in the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2017

Governments and civil society have now also joined the quest and are actively exploring the potential of DLTs to create transformative social change. Experiments are underway to leverage blockchain technologies to address major societal challenges – from homelessness in New York City to the Rohyingya crisis in Myanmar to government corruption around the world. At the same time, a growing backlash to the newest ‘shiny object’ in the technology for good space is gaining ground.   

At this year’s The Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC), organized by mySociety in Lisbon, the GovLab’s Stefaan Verhulst and Andrew Young joined the Engine Room’s Nicole Anand, the Natural Resource Governance Institute’s Anders Pedersen, and ITS-Rio’s Marco Konopacki to consider whether or not Blockchain can truly deliver on its promise for creating civic change.

For the GovLab’s contribution to the panel, we shared early findings from our Blockchange: Blockchain for Social Change initiative. Blockchange, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, seeks to develop a deeper understanding of the promise and practice of DLTs tin addressing public problems – with a particular focus on the lack, the role and the establishment of trusted identities – through a set of detailed case-studies. Such insights may help us develop operational guidelines on when blockchain technology may be appropriate and what design principles should guide the future use of DLTs for good.

Our presentation covered four key areas (Full presentation here):

  1. The evolving package of attributes present in Blockchain technologies: on-going experimentation, development and investment has lead to the realization that there is no one blockchain technology. Rather there are several variations of attributes that provide for different technological scenarios. Some of these attributes remain foundational -– such as immutability, (guaranteed) integrity, and distributed resilience – while others have evolved as optional including disintermediation, transparency, and accessibility. By focusing on the attributes we can transcend the noise that is emerging from having too many well funded start-ups that seek to pitch their package of attributes as the solution;Attributes of DLT
  2. The three varieties of Blockchain for social change use cases: Most of the pilots and use cases where DLTs are being used to improve society and people’s lives can be categorized along three varieties of applications:
    • Track and Trace applications. For instance: 
      1. Versiart creates verifiable, digital certificates for art and collectibles which helps buyers ensure each piece’s provenance.
      2. Grassroots Cooperative along with Heifer USA created a blockchain-powered app that allows every package of chicken marketed and sold by Grassroots to be traced on the Ethereum blockchain.
      3. Everledger works with stakeholders across the diamond supply chain to track diamonds from mine to store.
      4. Ripe is working with Sweetgreen to use blockchain and IoT sensors to track crop growth, yielding higher-quality produce and providing better information for farmers, food distributors, restaurants, and consumers.    
    • Smart Contracting applications. For instance:
      1. In Indonesia, Carbon Conservation and Dappbase have created smart contracts that will distribute rewards to villages that can prove the successful reduction of incidences of forest fires.
      2. Alice has built Ethereum-based smart contracts for a donation project that supports 15 homeless people in London. The smart contracts ensure donations are released only when pre-determined project goals are met.
      3. Bext360 utilizes smart contracts to pay coffee farmers fairly and immediately based on a price determined through weighing and analyzing beans by the Bext360 machine at the source.  
    • Identity applications. For instance:
      1. The State of Illinois is working with Evernym to digitize birth certificates, thus giving individuals a digital identity from birth.
      2. BanQu creates an economic passport for previously unbanked populations by using blockchain to record economic and financial transactions, purchase goods, and prove their existence in global supply chains.
      3. In 2015, AID:Tech piloted a project working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon to distribute over 500 donor aid cards that were tied to non-forgeable identities.
      4. uPort provides digital identities for residents of Zug, Switzerland to use for governmental services.

Three Blockchange applications

  1. The promise of trusted Identity: the potential to establish a trusted identity turns out to be foundational for using blockchain technologies for social change. At the same time identity emerges from a process (involving, for instance, provisioning, authentication, administration, authorization and auditing) and it is key to assess at what stage of the ID lifecycle DLTs provide an advantage vis-a-vis other ID technologies; and how the maturity of the blockchain technology toward addressing the ID challenge. 

ID Lifecycle and DLT

  1. Finally, we seek to translate current findings into
    • Operational conditions that can enable the public and civic sector at-large to determine when “to blockchain” including:
      • The need for a clear problem definition (as opposed to certain situations where DLT solutions are in search of a problem);
      • The presence of information asymmetries and high transaction costs incentivize change. (“The Market of Lemons” problem);
      • The availability of (high quality) digital records;
      • The lack of availability of credible and alternative disclosure technologies;
      • Deficiency (or efficiency) of (trusted) intermediaries in the space.
    • Design principles that can increase the likelihood of societal benefit when using Blockchain for identity projects (see picture) .

Design Principles

In the coming months, we will continue to share our findings from the Blockchange project in a number of forms – including a series of case studies, additional presentations and infographics, and an operational field guide for designing and implementing Blockchain projects to address challenges across the identity lifecycle.

The GovLab, in collaboration with the National Resource Governance Institute, is also delighted to announce a new initiative aimed at taking stock of the promise, practice and challenge of the use of Blockchain in the extractives sector. The project is focused in particular on DLTs as they relate to beneficial ownership, licensing and contracting transparency, and commodity trading transparency. This fall, we will share a collection of Blockchain for extractives case studies, as well as a report summarizing if, when, and how Blockchain can provide value across the extractives decision chain.

If you are interested in collaborating on our work to increase our understanding of Blockchain’s real potential for social change, or if you have any feedback on this presentation of early findings, please contact


Blockchain Slashes US Govt. Contract Award Time From 100 To 10 Days

Article by Cameron Bishop: “…The US General services Administration built the first federal procurement blockchain proof of concept about six months ago. The procurement blockchain was built to demonstrate how the distributed ledger technology can modernize federal procurement. The pilot project made them realize that blockchain, when combined with artificial intelligence and robotics, provides the foundational architecture for widespread automation.

The proof of concept, which was built in seven weeks, automated the procurement process. More importantly, it reduced the average contract award time from 100 days to less than 10 days. Complex tasks such as financial review was automated through the use of blockchain. It also eliminated human error, bias and subjectivity from the process. A smart contract deployed in the blockchain automatically calculated the financial health score from the offerors’ balance sheets and income statements. The entire process was standardized using commercial and government practices.

Furthermore, the use of blockchain ledger ensured that vendors were kept abreast of the developments. Vendors received alerts on a real-time basis as the offers progress through the workflow. This made the process transparent, while preserving the privacy of each transaction. The success of this pilot project is expected to bring a drastic change in the federal procurement process.

While a blockchain can be public, permissioned, and private, federal agencies may opt for a private blockchain to facilitate procurement transactions among pre-screened vendors with digital identity certificates.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) provides guidelines to ensure integrity, openness and fairness in federal procurement. The blockchain technology will enforce those policies through a system of procedural trust embedded into the platform.

By using blockchain technology, the federal procurement process can be more transparent, efficient, faster, and less vulnerable to fraud and abuse. More importantly, by design, a blockchain preserves the integrity of the assets and transactions between multiple parties within the value chain. Additionally, blockchain will avoid unnecessary litigations, while promoting competition in a healthy manner. It will also provide an organization with unique insights into the procurement value chain unavailable previously….(More)”.

Digital Identity: On the Threshold of a Digital Identity Revolution

White Paper by the World Economic Forum: “For individuals, legal entities and devices alike, a verifiable and trusted identity is necessary to interact and transact with others.

The concept of identity isn’t new – for much of human history, we have used evolving credentials, from beads and wax seals to passports, ID cards and birth certificates, to prove who we are. The issues associated with identity proofing – fraud, stolen credentials and social exclusion – have challenged individuals throughout history. But, as the spheres in which we live and transact have grown, first geographically and now into the digital economy, the ways in which humans, devices and other entities interact are quickly evolving – and how we manage identity will have to change accordingly.

As we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution and more transactions are conducted digitally, a digital representation of one’s identity has become increasingly important; this applies to humans, devices, legal entities and beyond. For humans, this proof of identity is a fundamental prerequisite to access critical services and participate in modern economic, social and political systems. For devices, their digital identity is critical in conducting transactions, especially as the devices will be able to transact relatively independent of humans in the near future. For legal entities, the current state of identity management consists of inefficient manual processes that could benefit from new technologies and architecture to support digital growth.

As the number of digital services, transactions and entities grows, it will be increasingly important to ensure the transactions take place in a secure and trusted network where each entity can be identified and authenticated. Identity is the first step of every transaction between two or more parties.

Over the ages, the majority of transactions between two identities has been mostly viewed in relation to the validation of a credential (“Is this genuine information?”), verification (“Does the information match the identity?”) and authentication of an identity (“Does this human/thing match the identity? Are you really who you claim to be?”). These questions have not changed over time, only the methods have change. This paper explores the challenges with current identity systems and the trends that will have significant impact on identity in the future….(More)”.

How Refugees Are Helping Create Blockchain’s Brand New World

Jessi Hempel at Wired: “Though best known for underpinning volatile cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, blockchain technology has a number of qualities which make it appealing for record-keeping. A distributed ledger doesn’t depend on a central authority to verify its existence, or to facilitate transactions within it, which makes it less vulnerable to tampering. By using applications that are built on the ‘chain, individuals may be able to build up records over time, use those records across borders as a form of identity—essentially creating the trust they need to interact with the world, without depending on a centralized authority, like a government or a bank, to vouch for them.

For now, these efforts are small experiments. In Finland, the Finnish Immigration Service offers refugees a prepaid Mastercard developed by the Helsinki-based startup MONI that also links to a digital identity, composed of the record of one’s financial transactions, which is stored on the blockchain. In Moldova, the government is working with digital identification expertsfrom the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to brainstorm ways to use blockchain to provide children living in rural areas with a digital identity, so it’s more difficult for traffickers to smuggle them across borders.

Among the more robust programs is a pilot the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) launched in Jordan last May. Syrian refugees stationed at the Azraq Refugee Camp receive vouchers to shop at the local grocery store. The WFP integrated blockchain into its biometric authentication technology, so Syrian refugees can cash in their vouchers at the supermarket by staring into a retina scanner. These transactions are recorded on a private Ethereum-basedblockchain, called Building Blocks. Because the blockchain eliminates the need for WFP to pay banks to facilitate transactions, Building Blocks could save the WFP as much as $150,000 each month in bank fees in Jordan alone. The program has been so successful that by the end of the year, the WFP plans to expand the technology throughout Jordan. Blockchain enthusiasts imagine a future in which refugees can access more than just food vouchers, accumulating a transaction history that could stand in as a credit history when they attempt to resettle….

But in the rush to apply blockchain technology to every problem, many point out that relying on the ledger may have unintended consequences. As the Blockchain for Social Impact chief technology officer at ConsenSys, Robert Greenfeld IV writes, blockchain-based identity “isn’t a silver bullet, and if we don’t think about it/build it carefully, malicious actors could still capitalize on it as an element of control.” If companies rely on private blockchains, he warns, there’s a danger that the individual permissions will prevent these identity records from being used in multiple places. (Many of these projects, like the UNWFP project, are built on private blockchains so that organizations can exert more control over their development.) “If we don’t start to collaborate together with populations, we risk ending up with a bunch of siloed solutions,” says Greenfeld.

For his part, Greenfeld suggests governments could easily use state-sponsored machine learning algorithms to monitor public blockchain activity. But as bitcoin enthusiasts branch out of their get-rich-quick schemes to wrestle with how to make the web more equitable for everyone, they have the power to craft a world of their own devising. The early web should be a lesson to the bitcoin enthusiasts as they promote the blockchain’s potential. Right now we have the power to determine its direction; the dangers exist, but the potential is enormous….(More)”

A Really Bad Blockchain Idea: Digital Identity Cards for Rohingya Refugees

Wayan Vota at ICTworks: “The Rohingya Project claims to be a grassroots initiative that will empower Rohingya refugees with a blockchain-leveraged financial ecosystem tied to digital identity cards….

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Concerns about Rohingya data collection are not new, so Linda Raftree‘s Facebook post about blockchain for biometrics started a spirited discussion on this escalation of techno-utopia. Several people put forth great points about the Rohingya Project’s potential failings. For me, there were four key questions originating in the discussion that we should all be debating:

1. Who Determines Ethnicity?

Ethnicity isn’t a scientific way to categorize humans. Ethnic groups are based on human constructs such as common ancestry, language, society, culture, or nationality. Who are the Rohingya Project to be the ones determining who is Rohingya or not? And what is this rigorous assessment they have that will do what science cannot?

Might it be better not to perpetuate the very divisions that cause these issues? Or at the very least, let people self-determine their own ethnicity.

2. Why Digitally Identify Refugees?

Let’s say that we could group a people based on objective metrics. Should we? Especially if that group is persecuted where it currently lives and in many of its surrounding countries? Wouldn’t making a list of who is persecuted be a handy reference for those who seek to persecute more?

Instead, shouldn’t we focus on changing the mindset of the persecutors and stop the persecution?

3. Why Blockchain for Biometrics?

How could linking a highly persecuted people’s biometric information, such as fingerprints, iris scans, and photographs, to a public, universal, and immutable distributed ledger be a good thing?

Might it be highly irresponsible to digitize all that information? Couldn’t that data be used by nefarious actors to perpetuate new and worse exploitation of Rohingya? India has already lost Aadhaar data and the Equafax lost Americans’ data. How will the small, lightly funded Rohingya Project do better?

Could it be possible that old-fashioned paper forms are a better solution than digital identity cards? Maybe laminate them for greater durability, but paper identity cards can be hidden, even destroyed if needed, to conceal information that could be used against the owner.

4. Why Experiment on the Powerless?

Rohingya refugees already suffer from massive power imbalances, and now they’ll be asked to give up their digital privacy, and use experimental technology, as part of an NGO’s experiment, in order to get needed services.

Its not like they’ll have the agency to say no. They are homeless, often penniless refugees, who will probably have no realistic way to opt-out of digital identity cards, even if they don’t want to be experimented on while they flee persecution….(More)”

Humanitarian group uses blockchain tech to give Rohingya digital ID cards

Techwire Asia: “A Non-Governmental Organization is using blockchain technology to provide stateless Rohingya refugees who fled Burma (Myanmar) with digital identity cards in a pilot project aimed at giving access to services like banking and education.

The first 1,000 people to benefit from the project in 2018 will be members of the diaspora in Malaysia, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, decades-old safe havens for the Rohingya, who are the world’s biggest stateless minority.

“They are disenfranchised,” Kyri Andreou, co-founder of The Rohingya Project, which is organising the initiative, said at its launch in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

“They are shut out. One of the key aspects is because of the lack of identification.”

More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims – who are denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Burma – have fled to Bangladesh since August after attacks by insurgents triggered a response by Burma’s army and Buddhist vigilantes….

According to The Sun, Muhammad Noor said the project focuses on two aspects – identity and opportunity – in which the system will provide the first verified data on Rohingya census across the world.

Individual Rohingya, he said, shall have their ancestry authentically identified to link them directly to their original land of dispersion…(More)”.

The nation state goes virtual

Tom Symons at Nesta’s Predictions for 2018: “As the world changes, people expect their governments and public services to do so too. When it’s easy to play computer games with someone on the other side of the world, or set up a company bank account in five minutes, there is an expectation that paying taxes, applying for services or voting should be too…..

To add to this, large political upheavals such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have left some people feeling alienated from their national identity. Since the the UK voted to leave the EU, demand for Irish passports has increased by 50 per cent, a sign that people feel dissatisfied by the constraints of geographically determined citizenship when they can no longer relate to their national identity.

In response, some governments see these changes as an opportunity to reconceptualise what we mean by a nation state.

The e-Residency offer

The primary actor in this disruption is Estonia, which leads the world in digital government. In 2015 they introduced an e-Residency, allowing anyone anywhere in the world to receive a government-issued digital identity. The e-Residency gives people access to digital public services and the ability to register and run online businesses from the country, in exactly the same way as someone born in Estonia. As of November 2017, over 27,000 people have applied to be Estonian e-Residents, and they have established over 4,200 companies. Estonia aims to have ten million virtual residents by 2025….

While Estonia is a sovereign nation using technology to redefine itself, there are movements taking advantage of decentralising technologies in a bid to do away with the nation state altogether. Bitnation is a blockchain-based technology which enables people to create and join virtual nations. This allows people to agree their own social contracts between one another, using smart contract technology, removing the need for governments as an administrator or mediator. Since it began in 2014, it has been offering traditional government services, such as notaries, dispute resolution, marriages and voting systems, without the need for a middleman.

As of November 2017, there are over 10,000 Bitnation citizens. …

As citizens, we may be able to educate our children in Finland, access healthcare from South Korea and run our businesses in New Zealand, all without having to leave the comfort of our homes. Governments may see this as means of financial sustainability in the longer term, generating income by selling such services to a global population instead of centralised taxation systems levied on a geographic population.

Such a model has been described as ‘nation-as-a-service’, and could mean countries offering different tiers of citizenship, with taxes based on the number of services used, or tier of citizenship chosen. This could also mean multiple citizenships, including of city-states, as well as nations….

This is the moment for governments to start taking the full implications of the digital age seriously. From electronic IDs and data management through to seamless access to services, citizens will only demand better digital services. Countries such as Azerbaijan, are already developing their own versions of the e-Residency. Large internet platforms such as Amazon are gearing up to replace entire government functions. If governments don’t grasp the nettle, they may find themselves left behind by technology and other countries which won’t wait around for them….(More)”.

Selected Readings on Blockchain and Identity

By Hannah Pierce and Stefaan Verhulst

The Living Library’s Selected Readings series seeks to build a knowledge base on innovative approaches for improving the effectiveness and legitimacy of governance. This curated and annotated collection of recommended works on the topic of blockchain and identity was originally published in 2017.

The potential of blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies to create positive social change has inspired enthusiasm, broad experimentation, and some skepticism. In this edition of the Selected Readings series, we explore and curate the literature on blockchain and how it impacts identity as a means to access services and rights. (In a previous edition we considered the Potential of Blockchain for Transforming Governance).


In 2008, an unknown source calling itself Satoshi Nakamoto released a paper named Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System which introduced Blockchain. Blockchain is a novel technology that uses a distributed ledger to record transactions and ensure compliance. Blockchain and other Distributed Ledger technologies (DLTs) rely on an ability to act as a vast, transparent, and secure public database.

Distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) have disruptive potential beyond innovation in products, services, revenue streams and operating systems within industry. By providing transparency and accountability in new and distributed ways, DLTs have the potential to positively empower underserved populations in myriad ways, including providing a means for establishing a trusted digital identity.

Consider the potential of DLTs for 2.4 billion people worldwide, about 1.5 billion of whom are over the age of 14, who are unable to prove identity to the satisfaction of authorities and other organizations – often excluding them from property ownership, free movement, and social protection as a result. At the same time, transition to a DLT led system of ID management involves various risks, that if not understood and mitigated properly, could harm potential beneficiaries.

Annotated Selected Reading List


Cuomo, Jerry, Richard Nash, Veena Pureswaran, Alan Thurlow, Dave Zaharchuk. “Building trust in government: Exploring the potential of blockchains.” IBM Institute for Business Value. January 2017.

This paper from the IBM Institute for Business Value culls findings from surveys conducted with over 200 government leaders in 16 countries regarding their experiences and expectations for blockchain technology. The report also identifies “Trailblazers”, or governments that expect to have blockchain technology in place by the end of the year, and details the views and approaches that these early adopters are taking to ensure the success of blockchain in governance. These Trailblazers also believe that there will be high yields from utilizing blockchain in identity management and that citizen services, such as voting, tax collection and land registration, will become increasingly dependent upon decentralized and secure identity management systems. Additionally, some of the Trailblazers are exploring blockchain application in borderless services, like cross-province or state tax collection, because the technology removes the need for intermediaries like notaries or lawyers to verify identities and the authenticity of transactions.

Mattila, Juri. “The Blockchain Phenomenon: The Disruptive Potential of Distributed Consensus Architectures.” Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy. May 2016.

This working paper gives a clear introduction to blockchain terminology, architecture, challenges, applications (including use cases), and implications for digital trust, disintermediation, democratizing the supply chain, an automated economy, and the reconfiguration of regulatory capacity. As far as identification management is concerned, Mattila argues that blockchain can remove the need to go through a trusted third party (such as a bank) to verify identity online. This could strengthen the security of personal data, as the move from a centralized intermediary to a decentralized network lowers the risk of a mass data security breach. In addition, using blockchain technology for identity verification allows for a more standardized documentation of identity which can be used across platforms and services. In light of these potential capabilities, Mattila addresses the disruptive power of blockchain technology on intermediary businesses and regulating bodies.

Identity Management Applications

Allen, Christopher.  “The Path to Self-Sovereign Identity.” Coindesk. April 27, 2016.

In this Coindesk article, author Christopher Allen lays out the history of digital identities, then explains a concept of a “self-sovereign” identity, where trust is enabled without compromising individual privacy. His ten principles for self-sovereign identity (Existence, Control, Access, Transparency, Persistence, Portability, Interoperability, Consent, Minimization, and Protection) lend themselves to blockchain technology for administration. Although there are actors making moves toward the establishment of self-sovereign identity, there are a few challenges that face the widespread implementation of these tenets, including legal risks, confidentiality issues, immature technology, and a reluctance to change established processes.

Jacobovitz, Ori. “Blockchain for Identity Management.” Department of Computer Science, Ben-Gurion University. December 11, 2016.

This technical report discusses advantages of blockchain technology in managing and authenticating identities online, such as the ability for individuals to create and manage their own online identities, which offers greater control over access to personal data. Using blockchain for identity verification can also afford the potential of “digital watermarks” that could be assigned to each of an individual’s transactions, as well as negating the creation of unique usernames and passwords online. After arguing that this decentralized model will allow individuals to manage data on their own terms, Jacobvitz provides a list of companies, projects, and movements that are using blockchain for identity management.

Mainelli, Michael. “Blockchain Will Help Us Prove Our Identities in a Digital World.” Harvard Business Review. March 16, 2017.

In this Harvard Business Review article, author Michael Mainelli highlights a solution to identity problems for rich and poor alike–mutual distributed ledgers (MDLs), or blockchain technology. These multi-organizational data bases with unalterable ledgers and a “super audit trail” have three parties that deal with digital document exchanges: subjects are individuals or assets, certifiers are are organizations that verify identity, and inquisitors are entities that conducts know-your-customer (KYC) checks on the subject. This system will allow for a low-cost, secure, and global method of proving identity. After outlining some of the other benefits that this technology may have in creating secure and easily auditable digital documents, such as greater tolerance that comes from viewing widely public ledgers, Mainelli questions if these capabilities will turn out to be a boon or a burden to bureaucracy and societal behavior.

Personal Data Security Applications

Banafa, Ahmed. “How to Secure the Internet of Things (IoT) with Blockchain.” Datafloq. August 15, 2016.

This article details the data security risks that are coming up as the Internet of Things continues to expand, and how using blockchain technology can protect the personal data and identity information that is exchanged between devices. Banafa argues that, as the creation and collection of data is central to the functions of Internet of Things devices, there is an increasing need to better secure data that largely confidential and often personally identifiable. Decentralizing IoT networks, then securing their communications with blockchain can allow to remain scalable, private, and reliable. Enabling blockchain’s peer-to-peer, trustless communication may also enable smart devices to initiate personal data exchanges like financial transactions, as centralized authorities or intermediaries will not be necessary.

Shrier, David, Weige Wu and Alex Pentland. “Blockchain & Infrastructure (Identity, Data Security).” Massachusetts Institute of Technology. May 17, 2016.

This paper, the third of a four-part series on potential blockchain applications, covers the potential of blockchains to change the status quo of identity authentication systems, privacy protection, transaction monitoring, ownership rights, and data security. The paper also posits that, as personal data becomes more and more valuable, that we should move towards a “New Deal on Data” which provides individuals data protection–through blockchain technology– and the option to contribute their data to aggregates that work towards the common good. In order to achieve this New Deal on Data, robust regulatory standards and financial incentives must be provided to entice individuals to share their data to benefit society.