SSI: The technology exists, but what should happen next?
An interview with Giulietta Marani, Lead Innovation design Collaborative and responsible innovation @Digicampus and Jacob Boersma, project manager Dutch Self- Sovereign Identity Framework (DSSIF) @Dutch Blockchain Coalition.
The world is reconsidering what sovereignty means. Since the development of the Internet, the public space has gradually shifted to the digital world. With that, the challenge is to give citizens their own (online) identities. How do we ensure that the public interest assumes a leading role in the organisation and establishment of the digital public space? And how can you allow citizens to manage their own personal data in this digital world? New technologies such as Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) provide perspective.
With Self-Sovereign Identity, everybody has new possibilities to manage their privacy. SSI ensures that data go immediately to the user and gives the user the option to forward these data to others without the intervention of a third party. Therefore, the technologies behind SSI give citizens and entrepreneurs the online possibilities to manage their own data at a single location, to determine what happens with those data but also to control which data is shared with whom. For the receiving party, the technologies also speed up the verification process for checking whether the data received are current and correct. That makes the sharing of data faster and more secure.
‘With SSI, people take centre stage. SSI is a form of identity control that allows the end user (citizen, consumer, client) to determine what is shared. It therefore offers more privacy and is user friendlier than existing central systems’, says Jacob Boersma from the Dutch Blockchain Coalition (DBC).
Digicampus and DBC are jointly investigating the possibilities that SSI offers. Giulietta Marani from Digicampus encourages research into the possibilities of digital developments such as SSI: ‘Digicampus wants the experiments to become part of the policy-making process. Repeatedly going from the drawing table to everyday practice and back again, until something has been developed that citizens and organisations really need. We do that for subjects that have an impact on the digital society of the future, on subjects where business, government, science and society can only accelerate innovation by working together, on subjects where people can occupy an even more central position still. SSI is such a subject. At DigiCampus, we are exploring this subject and its application. We will talk with citizens, government and businesses about whether we can and want to be sovereign and the associated responsibilities. Together with the Dutch Blockchain Coalition, we are also involved in Odyssey Momentum where we are discovering how we can bring SSI a step further towards a real application for you and me.’
The testing ground - Odyssey Momentum
In Odyssey Momentum, the successor of the previous Odyssey hackathons, teams from across Europe come together to spend a weekend using blockchain technology to tackle problems faced by society, in several tracks with different
themes. One of the challenges is Self-Sovereign Identity and DBC and Digicampus are the joint challenge owners. With this SSI track, they want to demonstrate the added societal value of SSI for government, business and society and shape the boundary conditions for implementation and adoption. Marani: ‘If it only concerned technology, then there would already be a successful groundbreaking Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI): a real digital personal identity that is generally accepted and supported by the government, business and society. More is needed, however, and that is why we are working on the SSI track with the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Digicampus and DBC.'
This year’s event, which will take place from 13 to 15 November, will be held entirely online for the first time. Boersma: ‘Both DBC and Digicampus were already examining SSI, and that interest was united in Odyssey, whereby Odyssey Momentum can serve as a real testing ground.’ Digicampus and DBC will supervise the ten participating teams in the SSI track and challenge them to produce the best solutions, which in turn can be used by the dozens of teams in other tracks. The teams come from different countries (including the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Spain) and have diverse backgrounds (banks, knowledge institutions, start-ups, government). At Momentum, they meet each other so that cross-fertilisation can take place. The idea is not to reinvent the wheel but to build further upon the best solutions instead.
The added value of the SSI track
According to Marani and Boersma, the solutions from the SSI track have added value because they can also be used by the teams in other tracks. Each online application requires a reliable digital identity. Therefore collaboration and connections across the tracks are encouraged. For example, an SSI team can solve the identity question for a team in the Smart Real Estate track or help the Conscious Cities track with the identification of citizens. This means that the teams work on the boundary conditions of adoption and implementation on subjects from the other tracks, which at the same time allows them to thoroughly test whether that solution has broad support and whether it works. Yvo Hunink from Municipality of The Hague, and involved in the track Conscious Cities: ‘Working with the SSI track within Odyssey allows the Conscious Cities teams to focus on other elements in our challenge. Moreover, we expect specific SSI components to be used in several solutions, which will show us the multi- applicability of the technology and validate why SSI as a fundamental building block is worth focusing on in The Hague’s Smart City infrastructure.’
There are several important challenges in the field of SSI. One of those challenges lies in the area of interoperability: how do you ensure that all those systems collaborate with each other and provide a seamless experience for the user? How
do you prevent the fragmentation that is all too often the case now, with every website having its own login system? There are also challenges in the legal area: how do you ensure that these technically complex systems also fully satisfy the legal rules that were not originally written for them? Furthermore, connecting this new technology to the existing systems of companies and government bodies is another challenge that should not be forgotten. Although these challenges do not have to be completely solved during Momentum, it should at least become clearer where the obstacles lie.
SSI is also receiving a lot of international interest. During Momentum, that will be reflected not only in contributions from international teams but also in the composition of teams in the SSI track, where the European SSI Framework (ESSIF) is represented, for example. Outside of Momentum, people are also working hard on the Dutch SSI framework. But why do we need a Dutch framework if SSI is an international subject? Besides the international connection, Digicampus and DBC want to provide tools for the Dutch context. That means connecting with specific Dutch legislation and establishing links with Dutch systems like DigiD. In doing so, international best practices will most definitely be examined for the technical standards. ‘International standards exist, but those are mainly technical in nature and originate, for example, from an American context. We will not reinvent the wheel, but we will make the link to applications in the European and Dutch context,’ says Boersma.
SSI is widely deployable, and Odyssey Momentum is an open event. Everybody who is interested in using new technology to solve problems in society can benefit from the outcomes of Odyssey Momentum. And that is particularly the case for online identity issues. The fact that the event will be held entirely online this year also makes it easier than ever before to be present as an observer.
Marani: ‘I hope that Momentum will bring together the parties who are interested in SSI and who jointly want to work on the adoption by government, business and society. The SSI track will hopefully deliver the manuals that these parties can use to accelerate adoption. After Odyssey Momentum, the most important outcomes will be further developed within the knowledge and innovation agenda of Digicampus. For this, we will work together with the Govtech Validation Lab of YES!Delft.’
The SSI track during Momentum will have achieved its goal if it can
be demonstrated via the SSI teams that self-sovereign identity can be
used as part of practical applications in other challenges. A second
success factor is whether we can gain a better picture of what still
needs to be realised in practice so that SSI can be widely used. And
finally, the track will have met its objective if we can develop SSI
further with the right stakeholders to translate it into a reality in
the Netherlands. After Momentum, the teams with the most potential will
be invited to continue in collaboration with the stakeholders in the
Dutch SSI Framework.
In this way, they will be able to jointly realise new, reliable, user-friendly and broadly applicable solutions where the end user exerts control.
Everybody interested in blockchain is invited to register as an observer www.odyssey.org/momentum. [Do you want to follow the developments in SSI? Then keep an eye on the online channels of Digicampus and DBC.
Digicampus and DBC collaborate in the field of SSI to design the public service of the future together with stakeholders from government, business, science and society. Digicampus: www.digicampus.tech & DBC: www.dutchblockchaincoalition.org