Loretta Anania, Gaëlle Le Gars, Rob van Kranenburg: Disposable Identities? Why digital identity matters to blockchain disintermediation and for society
23/08/2021 – 09:45
The Impact of Blockchain on Markets and Policies
Editors: Kaili, Eva, Psarrakis, Dimitrios (Eds.)
Abstract: Many smart contract applications – or more precisely blockchain-based digital ledger technologies (DLTs) proliferate. And yet, without accounting for the identity dimension and the different authentication regimes, there is little chance that these technologies will gain widespread use, and their disruptive innovation potential will not be realized. A growing number of digital interactions in which we engage online require more trust and more security; choosing the right identity technologies and data policy safeguards is an important policy choice. Digital wallets are part of our proposed solution: based on disposable identities tied to events and timelines. We explain why identity technologies matter. We describe the communication network architectures and functionalities. We show how EU Treaty legislation safeguards the important elements of this identity framework. We give examples of self- sovereign identity, and other solutions adopted by EU Member States. We conclude that successful deployment requires an EU legislative and regulatory framework fit for the digital society. The digital identity problem starts from the perspective of serving half a billion individual citizens, and inclusion requires public policy that strongly supports it.
The tech giants and the banking sector are already in competition to become the frontline providers of digital identity. Leaving the eID domain to market forces risk a repeat of the concentration of power outcome already decried in other parts of the digital market. But if there ever was a matter too great to be left to market forces in our collective digitalized existence, eID is it.
Soon the EU will need to act in response to Member States under pressure to defend their sovereignty in the expanding digital sphere. Citizens will rightly demand that their freedom of expression, and autonomy be ensured in the digital realm. The EU, itself, will need to ensure that its own laws remain enforceable, as it allows an ever greater share of every life to undergo digital transition. Online reputation systems and ID technologies will require broader accountability and diligent regulators. Equity and inclusion sustain our democratic system and that is also true online. This requires a deliberate approach and will not happen without the deployment of appropriate legal and technological approaches.
In this chapter, we described the context and evolution of digital identification technologies and proposed a novel approach, a possible solution that would simultaneously defend individual autonomy and EU sovereignty. Any eID approach that would cover the entire EU must be inclusive by design. A Disposable Identity approach would deliver in the digital realm, the level of privacy and security that are entitlements of EU citizens. The ‘provable computing on a chip’ would ensure the level of security required for law enforcement purposes. Finally, issuance decisions would be kept under the control of legitimate and accountable state-authorities.
Technologies of freedom require safeguards aligned to Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union. Our treaty explicitly safeguards a ‘gathering of individuals’ as opposed to institutions. At a fundamental level, the human right to retain agency in a digital world is as important for the EU to safeguard today as the four freedoms introduced in the Treaty of Rome (1957) or the rights brought about by the introduction of EU Citizenship in the Maastricht treaty (1992). The EU evolved from coal and steel and the common market to a union of citizens. Beyond the Single Market, this union is what is at stakes here.
We conclude with this inspiring quote from the Swedish MEP, David Lega:
‘Because it is about identities isn’t it? My disability is, and will always be one of my identities. But it will never be all of my identity. I was an athlete, I was an entrepreneur, I was a speaker. I’m a boyfriend, I’m a brother, I’m a friend, and I’m in a wheelchair’