Blockchain projects, Tech Knowledge

Blockchain democracy commits today’s voting onto tomorrow’s stack. (Part 3/3: Verifiable identities)

In previous sections, we have explored the theoretical framework of Quadratic voting for Ethereum (Part 1) and the implementations of Mechanism designs on Polkadot (Part 2). This final section focuses on the concept of Verifiable identities as deployed on the Sovrin blockchain.

Why verifiable identities?

Over the past decade, as internet users took a big jump into the digital world of Web 2.0, big Tech companies saw in it the chance to gain influence as middle(wo)men between the users and their platforms. This was a world of “Federated identities” in which people continually proved their details by signing up, logging-in, accessing and re-cycling their existing accounts.

Federated identities facilitate identity theft.
Federated identities cost their users a lot.

Soon enough, new platforms started to join hands with existing corporations. They allowed someone’s credentials on one app to work seamlessly on another app, passing the data all along without restraint and through a maze of hacks. Sadly, the situation worsened when anonymous and pseudonymous users gradually found themselves surfing the web alongside a sea of non-human actors.

From moderators to Blockchain Registrars.

As bots, deepfakes and social engineering merged to impersonate celebrities and reach the status of social actors, the question of “Who is hiding behind this account?” became a challenging puzzle for moderating teams to solve. The traditional response has been to use registrars to act as gatekeepers of platforms. Cybersecurity administrators are now aided with a flurry of filtering tools such as CAPTCHA, anti-spam plugins and SSL certifications.

Blockchain identities on Bitcoin imagined by Microsoft.
Blockchain identity: a secure ledger of decentralised identities as data.

Web 3.0 has recycled the same concept into decentralised identity registrars. To get one’s identity verified for blockchain governance, stakeholders still have to transact with a third-party. This may require paying a fee on-chain, submitting details off-chain, getting a time-locked validation on-chain, etc. Even so, there is still nothing stopping registrars from creating multiple bogus on-chain identities: all you need is a lot of money and a few tokens at stake.

“Zero-Knowledge proofs” meet “Guardianship”.

Sovrin (a public permissioned network) proposes to support a new model for internet identification called “Self-Sovereign Identities” (SSI). Access management and Verification services are all conducted on the Sovrin blockchain and its extensive governance system to keep Digital ID, public keys, wallets or vaults strictly separate through “Zero-knowledge proofs” (ZKP). ZKP are a powerful cryptographic protocol that allows a verifier to check a user’s identity through a proof that an isolated piece of information is true, thus bringing control and security back into the hands of the users.

Nevertheless, because our cognitive capabilities decline with age, some gatekeepers still need to be put in place within digital identification processes. Sovrin has introduced the concept of “Guardianship“, a much-needed mechanism through which a capable Delegate can represent an incapacitated Dependent in front of a Guardian (i.e an organisation protecting the dependent’s property) to help administer the Dependent’s SSI. This feature is what makes Sovrin scalable in time, space and scope for all, in a true democratic fashion.

Blockchain development is already at work to gradually transform key areas of our everyday lives. Originally, the technology was proposed as a radical solution to chaotic monetary policies (Bitcoin), to centralised finance (Ethereum) and to inefficient corporate processes (Hyperledger, Corda). Blockchain technology is now extending its reach deep into government operations (voting, identity, welfare, data management, etc) to cement the democratic ideals of new generations.

Useful resources:

Dmitry Khovratovich & Jason Law: Sovrin: Digital identities in the Blockchain era

Sovrin: On Guardianship in Self-Sovereign Identities