Last year, Microsoft joined ID2020, a global Alliance dedicated to creating universal digital identities for everyone. What are the social, economic and ethical implications of such an initiative?
Our digital activities are more and more in line with our real activities. Participation in the modern economy, the ability to buy and sell, get jobs, health care, social services and much more is almost impossible without a digital identity.
In May 2016, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, ID2020, an alliance of governments, non-profit organizations, academia, more than 150 private sector companies and 11 United Nations agencies collaborated on how to ensure a unique digital identity for everyone in planet.
Much of the ID2020 Alliance's reach is focused on its noble goal of digitally identifying more than one billion refugees, women, children, and others without any form of identification. The idea of providing digital identity to this “invisible” part of the world's population to ensure their participation in society puts the human face above a true mission. It also creates a unifying point that this Open Alliance hopes that other organizations like Microsoft will embrace and become part of this global effort.
The fundamental mission of creating a universal identification system that includes every person on the globe, using modern technology and the support of various governments, financial institutions and more, is the goal behind the humanitarian cause.
ID2020 Alliance and its 2030 Goal
According to the alliance's guidance material, “by 2030, it aims to promote the expansion of a secure, verifiable and resilient digital identity in line with the Sustainable Development Goals” agreed by the United Nations.
“It is a short-term focus on achieving this goal - developing and testing the best technology solutions for digital identity; and working with governments and other actors in their implementation. The focus on 1.5 billion undocumented people is part of that short-term vision.
The long-term vision is built around Case for Action alliances, which argue that converging trends provide an unprecedented opportunity for coordinated, coordinated progress towards the goal of a universal digital identity.
These trends include political consensus among members of the United Nations, expanding global connections, the emergence of new technologies, and global calls for a new identity model.
- Political unity: in 2015, all countries of the United Nations made a global commitment to ensure legal identity for all by 2030.
- Global connectivity: the proliferation of smart devices enables new registration methods and ensures consistent interactions with identities.
- New technologies: Blockchain technology such as that used with bitcoin, and in which Microsoft has invested to create a decentralized id (DID), makes a secure and verifiable technology available to the masses.
- New Identity Model: Consumers want a seamless and secure digital experience.
Microsoft, in a recent announcement regarding the use of blockchain technology for decentralized identity, further articulated its support for the initiative, stating: "Each of us needs a digital identity that we own that securely and privately stores all elements of our digital identity."
Microsoft, blockchain and universal identifiers
In a statement reaffirming its position as a founding member of the ID2020 Alliance, Microsoft shared that it, its developers and Alliance partners will collaborate on a blockchain-based, open source identity system. This system will allow for interoperability of people, applications, products and services between cloud providers, other blockchains and organizations.
Microsoft's goal is to help establish universal and scalable standards for these decentralized digital identities using blockchain technology. In the blockchain, information exists as a common database that is consistently agreed upon. Blockchain data does not exist in a centralized location, but is hosted on millions of computers across the internet. The Alliance is using this secure and virtually elusive system to create a decentralized identification system for the world's population.
If blockchains sound familiar, they should be. Wallet apps like the ones used to buy things with popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are the user interface that most people associate with blockchain technology. This technology has secure identity management at its core. It is on this technology that Microsoft and the Alliance are developing applications for global identity management.
It's about the global community and the economy
Mobile technology is becoming an increasingly important tool for verifying identity in a variety of transaction scenarios, including buying and selling goods online or in person, using public transportation, opening hotel room doors, participating in amusement parks, and more. Our smartphones are currently the main portal, intricately intertwining our digital identity with our physical world.
With this in mind, GSMA, an Alliance of almost 800 mobile operators, is committed to simplifying SIM registration by encouraging flexible approaches to identity verification requirements for IDPs so that they can access mobile services, SIM-based energy services and wallets. …
This inclusion of even the disenfranchised into the digital landscape is of the utmost importance for ID2020 Alliances' goals to provide a universally accepted identity system for everyone on the planet. It is important to note that the purpose of this identification system is to create a framework for integrating the participation of world citizens in the global community and the universal digital economy. A secure and verifiable identity, like any digital transaction, is fundamental to this vision.
The Alliance emphasizes that digital identity is a cornerstone of international development and believes that digital identity should be with a person from birth to death. This goal, pursued by global cooperation, raises many ethical problems.
As the digital landscape becomes more prevalent, the boundaries between the physical and real world continue to blur. If the lack of digital identity within the current paradigm limits participation in the modern economy, then the absence of such a digital identity within a single globally recognized system can completely impede participation.
As more transactions become digital and are built around a single, global identity standard supported by Microsoft, the question of who will run this evolving global community and economy becomes urgent.
Moreover, non-participants in this system will not be able to buy or sell goods or services.